“If anyone objects to the marriage, speak now or forever hold your peace.”
On behalf of the Houston Rockets fanbase and the betterment of the organization, I’d like to object.
Pre-divorce, the Rockets and James Harden were a beautiful marriage, and the divorce wasn’t extremely toxic or anything like that. However, times have changed. Houston’s at a far different place in life, and Harden isn’t quite the same breadwinner he used to be. I don’t mean to break hearts, I’m just doing what’s best here. The Rockets need to set aside their emotions and think with their heads on this one.
Multiple reports over the past couple weeks have suggested a strong possibility James Harden returns to Houston, signing with the Rockets this upcoming offseason. Talking contract details, Brian Windhorst added that there’s “an appetite” around the NBA for Harden landing a four-year contract worth more than $200 million. If Houston brass truly has a craving for this dish, it’s time to get them on a diet.
There is "an appetite" around the NBA for James Harden landing a four-year contract worth more than $200 million 🤯
(Via @WindhorstESPN / h/t B/R) pic.twitter.com/uTXh5Tn5WI
— NBACentral (@TheNBACentral) May 21, 2023
The Rockets are amidst a hard rebuild. Three straight seasons with under 23 wins, and a roster full to the brim with young-aged players. It hasn’t been smooth sailing, but there’s reason for optimism with this group moving forward.
Jalen Green has gone through tons of ups and downs, but has flashed an abundance of upside at just 21 years old. Alperen Sengun is playing like one of the league’s best young offensive big men. Jabari Smith Jr. started to come along nicely towards the tail end of his rookie season. And Tari Eason might’ve had the most underrated rookie campaign amongst the 2022 class; an extremely versatile defender with a blossoming connector skillset on offense.
Tari Eason is a real building block for Houston moving forward
Insanely active & versatile defender. Great cutter, screener, O rebounder, still buy the slashing/transition upside + play-finishing. Shooting & passing feel will be swing skills. Just 22 years old pic.twitter.com/G4vVT9kftW
— Aidan Maher (@Aidan_Maher17) May 23, 2023
These are the four main roster pillars currently on Houston’s roster. That’s not even accounting for the number four overall pick in this year’s draft, their 10 first round picks over the next seven years, or guys like Kevin Porter Jr. & Kenyon Martin Jr. who played 28+ minutes per game for the Rockets last season. On top of all this, Houston landed Ime Udoka as their new head coach. He had an extremely successful one-year stint in Boston during the 2021-22 season, and should serve as a massive upgrade compared to Stephen Silas.
However, one big issue I’ve had with the Rockets is the lack of structure & culture on the team. Last season, they were the farthest thing away from a winning brand, style, or mindset that I’ve seen in the NBA.
John Wall says he told Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr: "This sh*t y'all getting away with here (with the #Rockets), if you go to any other teams, you would be out of the ****ing league. You wouldn't play. I'm trying to explain it to them because they think it's sweet." pic.twitter.com/xkckWAcYf5
— ClutchFans (@clutchfans) January 17, 2023
Houston has over $48 million available in cap space and should absolutely look to add some veterans with that money. With that being said, James Harden isn’t one of the veterans that should be on their target list. Committing over $50 million annually for the next four seasons to a near 34 year old that’s no longer one of the league’s best players is an investment I struggle to get behind: especially regarding Houston.
Yes, the Rockets need more structure, which veteran leadership would help supply. The Detroit Pistons refused to trade Bojan Bogdanovićat last February’s trade deadline despite the fact that he didn’t fit their rebuilding timeline at all. But Bogdanović offered veteran leadership and offensive structure that helped the Pistons young core get accustomed to running a legit NBA offense. It wasn’t overbearing, though. Bogdanović wasn’t stunting the growth of others around him; he fit the flow nicely while still adding some necessary structure.
When it comes to James Harden though, I don’t envision a smooth fit with the young core. His usage rate would be significantly higher than the likes of Bojan Bogdanović, he often stagnates (slows down) the offense, and he’s not exactly a well renowned leader that can flip a bad culture and lead young players.
I get it, ownership is probably growing sick of all this losing, and James Harden was the face of Houston basketball for many successful years, but committing all that money to Harden means you’re building this team around him. And if you’re building the team around a 34 year old, you’re now re-entering a win-now mindset despite the fact that the roster around him isn’t quite ready to compete, nor is it built to suit Harden’s skillset.
The Rockets best player this year was Alperen Sengun if you ask me, but the face of the franchise is Jalen Green. As I alluded to earlier, it’s been a rocky start to his career, but there have been plenty of high-end flashes and signs of development for a 21 year old that was taken number two overall to remain optimistic on his outlook. Green can still absolutely develop into one of the league’s best guards, and given all the young prospects on the roster, plus incoming draft picks and cap space, there will surely be other young stars on the roster as well.
But in regards to Green, he and Harden don’t fit at all. These two would be a disastrous backcourt pairing on the defensive end, and offensively, they’re both ball dominant players that play the game with extremely contrasting styles & paces.
If the Rockets choose the path of a complete remodel, flipping these young prospects for superior short-term veterans that better fit Harden and Houston’s newly reset timeline, that would also be a big mistake. Unlike five years ago, Harden’s no longer a number one on a “title-winning team” caliber player.
The Rockets are better off allocating their abundance of cap space to a couple veterans that better fit alongside their young core. And if they do shop around in the market of star-caliber players, target someone who a) makes sense given their timeline, b) fits alongside their core, and c) preferably doesn’t carry a poor contract.
James Harden is still a great player, but he’s zero-for-three when it comes to checking off those boxes. He doesn’t enhance this young core, nor does flipping into win-now mode with a restructured roster around Harden pose as a better option than sticking it out with this young core. Don’t do it Houston, just don’t do it.