Kevin McHale is gone, and now basketball fans turn their gaze to another culprit behind Houston’s topsy-turvy — they lost three straight, won four straight, then dropped four straight — season: James Harden. Harden, in case you forgot, was winning Player of the Week honors after the Rockets rebounded from their 0-and-3 start and went 4-0 just a week ago. Things turned just as quickly in the other direction after another 0-and-3 week.
Yes, Harden can be a sieve on defense, but to just call him a bad defender, or someone who doesn’t try or hustle, is terrifically shortsighted, and lends credence to Houston conspiracy theorists who are convinced everyone is out to malign their analytic-heavy approach. Despite the fact three-pointers, shots at the rim and free throws really are efficient, the Rockets have looked uninspired, and now three independent sources tell Sam Amick and Jeff Zillgitt (you know it’s big when they team up) of USA Today that the reported players-only meeting that took place the night before McHale was canned featured a lot of grousing about the disinterested way James Harden can be with his Rockets teammates. His play on the court was also discussed, so at least we know it wasn’t just a bunch of commentary on Keeping up with the Kardashians.
Crappy jokes aside, here’s what was reported:
While players tried to keep details of the meeting private, two themes emerged, three people told USA TODAY Sports on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the situation. Harden’s play and aloofness have frustrated teammates, and McHale took the brunt of the blame for the team’s play. Practices were not resulting in improved play in games
A couple of course’s and one other thing to note on the above pull-quote:
- Just the other day we were sharing the long feature ESPN published about the tight-lipped players-only meetings. Seems the covert part of these meetings has been lost these days [insert curmudgeonly Chuck missive, here].
- Of course an aloof teammate can be frustrating.
- Of course the coach took the brunt of the blame. It was a players-only meeting.
Listen, the Rockets appear to be a mess, one that 36-year-old J.B. Bickerstaff has now inherited. Oh yeah, you didn’t know? J.B. is the son of NBA scout, former head coach and current assistant coach, Bernie Bickerstaff, and he’s actually a year younger than Rockets elder statesman, Jason Terry. Will the son of a coach who never played in the NBA and is a few years away from even turning 40 command the respect in the locker room that the former Hall-of-Fame player, coach and GM, McHale, lost this season? The answer’s redundant.
But hey, James Harden isn’t the cuddly leader his teammates want him to be, so at least we’ve got a new person to blame for Houston’s up-and-down first few weeks. And we’re not exempting Harden here at all. If his attitude really is affecting his teammates, then that needs to change. He’s their best player, and if he wants to be their leader, then his on- and off-court inclinations play a role in that responsibility.
It might not be cool to give a sh*t these days (we have no idea what’s cool), but if Harden — as their possibly-specious chief — is not visibly straining to turn Houston’s fortunes around, what’s the incentive for the rest of the less-talented roster to do so? Still, we can’t help but wonder if Harden is now — perhaps unfairly — taking the brunt of the blame since McHale was let go.
The NBA in the modern age is as impulsive as that drunken tweet you thought sounded so cool last night. It’s not even December and everyone’s got an opinion on a team that’s still finding itself.
Perhaps injecting Patrick Beverley into the starting lineup, like McHale was reportedly mulling before being terminated, might turn the tide a bit. Ty Lawson would be devastating for second units to try and contain, and Houston could certainly use more of pesky Pat’s perimeter defense.
But the team is in flux, and no one really knows what to do. That’s when the best player gets called to the front of the class. Lets hope Harden didn’t forget to do his homework assignment.