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Issue 17 Out Now

End of an ERA

James Harden | MICHAEL REAVES | Getty Images

October 27, 2012 the Houston Rockets made a move that sent shockwaves throughout the sports world by trading for, then NBA Sixth Man of the Year award winner, James Harden of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The trade for Harden resurrected a franchise who had rapidly become irrelevant after the tumultuous, injury riddled, Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady era.

Eight years have passed. Harden has transitioned himself from the NBA’s best bench player to arguably the games best player. He won the MVP award in 2018, finished as a finalist four times, has never missed the playoffs, and made the Western Conference Finals twice.

Harden’s resume clearly tells the story of a player that is first ballot hall of fame worthy. But to be in the iconic status of a Lebron James, Michael Jordan, or Kobe Bryant, championship is the criteria for which the players are judged upon.

The 23-year old kid with a big beard the Rockets traded for in 2012, is now a 31- year old man with an even bigger beard. He now understands that without a championship he could be viewed as just another great player who lacked winning intangibles, such as the Charles Barkley and Karl Malone’s of the basketball world.

Pressure to win, failures of another postseason without reaching the NBA Finals, former head coach Mike D’antoni announced he wouldn’t return the following season, 24 hours after losing to the Los Angeles Lakers. Followed by former general manager Daryl Morey, departing weeks later.

“Personally, the timing worked for me. My youngest son just graduated from high school, and it was just the right time to see what’s next with family and other potential things in the future. It just felt like the right time,” — Daryl Morey

Three weeks had gone by since Morey excited Houston. Three weeks to land another job with Philadelphia 76ers as President of Basketball Operations.

The culmination of events sent shockwaves throughout the NBA once again, even bigger than those of October 2012. This time albeit terrible news for the Rockets franchise, when James Harden and Russell Westbrook both requested to be traded away from the organization.

Westbrook is said to be unhappy with how the organization is being run, and how he’s being used within the offense. Although the Rockets have hired a new coaching staff, the Rockets 6’3 point guard still wants out.

Sources told ESPN that, ‘Harden feels as though his time in Houston has ended, he’s unhappy with ownership, and doesn’t really see a path towards the goal that symbolizes NBA icons the most, a championship. The guard reportedly turned down a deal that would’ve paid him just well over 51 million dollars a year.”

Houston has taken every step in their eight year relationship to please Harden. In 2014 the front office brought three time defensive player of the year Dwight Howard to town. The two teammates butted heads quite often and the final year of the two together, the relationship completely fractured.

In 2017, dynamic and competitive guard Chris Paul was acquired during free agency. The first year of the Harden and Paul pairing got off to a fantastic start, won a franchise record 65 games and were a and away from an NBA finals until Paul would miss the final two games of the series due to a hamstring injury suffered during Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals.

By year two the relationship between Paul and Harden would fracture as well, the Rockets traded Paul during the off-season and acquired Harden’s childhood best friend Russell Westbrook.

Kobe and Shaq’s record for highest scoring average between teammates, usurped as the Rockets guard each scored well over 27 points per game in the regular season.

Postseason play was rocky, as Houston fell apart to the Lakers. Another season of failure significant the Rockets window of competing for championships was close altogether.

“Harden believes his window to chase championships in Houston has ended, and constructing a super team with the Nets represents his best pathway to a title, sources said. Harden can become a free agent in 2022 if he opts out of the final year of his contract — and sources said Brooklyn represents a two-year play to win a title before deciding on the next steps in his career,” — Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Brooklyn Nets are on top of James Harden wish-list. There he would be playing alongside former Oklahoma City Thunder teammate Kevin Durant and all star Kyrie Irving.

While the two star players want to play in a different locale, Houston isn’t capitulated to rush the process or take back less assets in any deal for the two guards, especially a player of Harden’s caliber.

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