Houston Rockets Are More ‘Pretenders’ Than ‘Contenders’

James Harden. Houston Rockets

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Outside of their back-to-back championships in 1994 and 1995, the Houston Rockets have always had the stigma of a team that is immensely talented, but lacks the heart and desire to achieve their ultimate goal.

One of the biggest reasons why the Rockets always seems to melt under the hot glow of expectations is that their star players have not really acted like leaders. Tracy McGrady is the only Rocket player since Hakeem Olajuwon to come close to matching leadership expectations. But Yao Ming was never really a leader, and neither was Steve Francis. And if anyone thought that Kevin Martin was a leader seriously needs to get their head checked.

With James Harden and Dwight Howard now “leading” this current crew of Rockets, it looks like that trend is going to continue. On Friday, Donatas Motiejunas, a member of the Rockets, spoke to a Lithuanian reporter about his time with the Rockets and how he meshed with the teams superstars. He said about Harden and Howard:

“Hi & bye. They even eat separately from the team. Usually in some fast food place.”

Does that sound like leaders to you? When I first read the story, I could not help but think that Harden and Howard’s lack of leadership skills was the main reason why Chris Bosh decided to stay with the Miami Heat.

Whether the comment was taken out of context or not, this is not a good look for Harden, Howard and the Rockets in general. That statement reeks of two players who are only in it to compile stats and cash checks. Maybe this is why Howard longed so hard to go to Houston. He knew that he would not have to grow up and become a leader there.

Until I see differently, Harden and Howard are not the type of players you want to build your team around. One refuses to play defense (Harden) and the other refuses to grow up (Howard). Add that together, plus their nonchalant attitudes to their teammates, and you have all the makings of a team that is more content on making the playoffs than competing for championships.

Maybe it’s time for us to admit it — the Rockets are pretenders, not contenders.

Kareem Gantt covers the NBA for Rant Sports. For more from this author, ‘follow’ him on Twitter, ‘like’ him on Facebook, and ‘add’ him to your network on Google.

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  • ForTheLin

    I might add that Howard and Harden follow the Houston Rockets’ mantra that it is really just a business. You are a cog in their wheel, and expendable, so check your loyalty at the door before you come in.

  • KA

    Howard did lead a team to the Finals, didn’t he(where they lost to a stacked LA team)? How many players can you name without looking it up who started on that Magic team? I know the Lakers had some injury issues, but they started Fisher, Kobe, Ariza, Gasol, and Bynum, with Odom as a 6th man in the playoffs. I can remember 3 Magic starters(of which Howard is the only player who still starts). Howard can lead a team to the Finals because he has, it’s just a matter of the west being so brutal, any of the 8 teams who make the playoffs will have a chance to win(at least one series). SA or OKC are still the teams to beat(they are the deepest and play good basketball consistently, and can deal with injuries).

    • jcsantos

      If Howard can’t even discipline his own co-”cornerstone” on his hogging, flopping, and no D, then there’s clearly something lacking in his leadership skills. You have to at least call him out on failing to do anything about Harden, or at the very least, needing to mature himself to have more influence over him for next season and other seasons wherever he chooses to go.

      A good teammate (and leader for that matter) makes their teammates become BETTER players, not just allow them to just continue doing their bad habits as they please.

      • KA

        Harden actually has a good assist average for his usage (using usage to assists, Lebron and Durant are actually bigger ball hogs; the ball hog thing is old and comes from people who don’t understand basketball, as the best offensive creators always have the highest usage on their teams). Flopping, well he gets defenders out of position and draws contact, that’s the new non hand checking NBA, Lebron does the same thing. He does need to put in consistent effort on D. The premise of the article is Howard and Harden can’t lead a team to a championship level. Making it to the Finals is pretty close, and the point is Howard has LEAD a team to the Finals before (Harden played well with OKC helping them get to the Finals, then Wade shut him down). They’ve had one season together, we’ll have to see how things develop, they’re talented, but so are the entire top 10 teams in the west. The article also uses a quote which Motiejunas has already said was on a Lithuanian talk show where he was trying to be funny, and not actually true:
        “The radio show, the guys that work there, make fun of everybody,” Motiejunas, who called from Lithuania said. “It’s a funny radio show. Everybody in Lithuania listens. They told me to try to be funny, try to make the jokes. They told me to be free. They asked some question. I joked about one thing. I joked about the other thing.

        “They asked about the team. I tried to be funny. They asked how they (Harden and Howard) approach the team. I told them like, “Hey, they’re not with us. I stay alone.’ Then the journalists in Lithuania took the interrview and took it serious and posted my interview. I didn’t talk with no journalists. It was just a fun radio show.”

        • jcsantos

          Based on your reply, you didn’t understand my post. Read it again and make an appropriate reply.

          • KA

            Your initial reply made little sense. Harden ball hog/flop is not true, just a common comment from people who don’t understand basketball (just pointed out he has more assists for usage than the top two MVP vote getters, and they both draw fouls the same way as Harden). Howard has led a team to the Finals, that is a fact, so I’m not sure what your referencing with his inability to lead(he’s done it before). Harden’s lack of effort on D is his own responsibility, and overblown, he does actually put in effort sometimes, just not consistently and that is something he has to improve. Howard has made everyones job easier and made his team better defensively, and was good for + 9 wins, not sure what else you wanted from him in his first season. He can’t make open shots for Harden in the postseason.

            They went from 16th to 12th in defensive efficiency.

            http://espn.go.com/nba/hollinger/teamstats/_/sort/defensiveEff/year/2013

            http://espn.go.com/nba/hollinger/teamstats/_/sort/defensiveEff

            Harden playing D

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3oJfqcu3i1M

          • jcsantos

            On Harden: Everyone just has to watch the games in order to see the ball hogging/flopping happening. Your use of a single stat cannot hide the fact that he’s very guilty of those things. The comments and the downvotes the video you posted shows that people aren’t easily fooled by a 5-minute video, which most agreed probably showed his TOTAL defensive effort for the entire season, and one even pointed out the pathetic attempt even included Harden’s fouls that were never called and other players’ bad passes that went straight to Harden just to make the video reach 5 minutes.

            On Howard: If he had the ability to lead, he’s not showing it with the Lakers and the Rockets. Discipline is not just the coach’s job but everyone’s jobs as teammates, and he either fails or doesn’t even try to discipline Harden. Whatever he did in his finals appearance may have worked to an extent, but his level of leadership is sorely lacking if it failed to do anything beyond 1st round exit with his new teams caused by the same bad habits that became prevalent in regular season. If he’s not calling them out on these, then that’s not an effective leader regardless of how well he did before.

            And if you still didn’t get it, I was talking about his leadership with his teammates in the locker room/off the court, not on game performance/contributions.

          • KA

            You don’t read, that compilation was from 20 games(less than 25% of the season, the other video is a season long compilation. Down votes mean nothing there because Lin fans are generally Harden Haters, look at any Lin article and look at the number of up votes some comments not based in reality get. Harden is the consensus best shooting guard in the league outside of Lin fans and Harden Haters. Funny, how you mention fouls (from a comment by a Harden hater: all that hate aimed at Lebron had to land somewhere since the world decided to forget the last 4 years) and bad passes, not good anticipation and post defense (where Harden was in the 97th percentile). Howard has led a team, and in LA he was coming off back surgery. Ask Shaq about how easy it is to get along with Kobe(who is responsible for getting Kobe 3 rings by the way).

            http://fansided.com/2014/08/05/nba-power-rankings-top-10-shooting-guards-2014-15/11/#!bAq1Yn

            http://www.complex.com/sports/2014/01/nba-shooting-guards/james-harden

            http://fansided.com/2014/07/30/nba-power-rankings-5-best-shooting-guards/7/#!bArbMG

            If you refuse to watch a video and cite up votes, you’ve obviously made up your mind, and ignoring stats is pretty absurd. Harden creates well for others, no shooting guard averaged more assists than him, and he averaged more assists than a number of starting point guards, so the ball hog thing is based in ignorance of how basketball works (best player has the highest usage, and Harden shares well for his usage, better than Lebron, Wade, Durant or Kobe [granted Kobe in his 6 games last year was better, but not in the prior year when he played 78 games] only non rocket Lin fans/Harden Haters refuse to see that). As to flopping, thats the way the rules work, you can’t make contact with a ball handler anymore, especially if you’re out of position or off balance, which is the position guys like Harden, Lebron, and Durant put defenders in, so hate the rules that favor high scoring games, but not the players ability to draw fouls based on those rules. Watch the video, the last portion shows passing highlights, and this 11+ minute video is 1 of 4 from the season. Watch him D up Kobe with OKC that’s 2 minutes from one game, with more up votes than down votes (which come from this vitriol of people looking for someone to hate, and Lin fans who’ve blamed Harden for years for Lin’s inconsistency, since no one wants to hate Riley and the Heat anymore) since that (up or down votes) is what makes it have merit, not what you can see with your own eyes. There are quite a few up votes in this video so it must have merit.

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EGNblw0jIbQ

          • jcsantos

            Do you honestly think Lin fans have enough time to waste down voting this video? Are most of them even aware that this video exists? (At least I wasn’t until you posted it) 12K views are way less than the actual number of Lin fans, and if they were aware of it at all AND if it was true that they’d down vote it, it would number at least 100K views already. Most Rockets fans are well aware of Harden’s defense and flopping, Lin fan or not, and you can’t justify the Lin fans hate on Harden that Harden’s shortcomings are so “overblown”. You can’t deceive people from what is the plain truth, and I emphasize again, LIN FAN OR NOT.

            You infer that I “refuse” to watch the video when I pointed out instances in that video where some of the “defensive” efforts were either not effective or not even of Harden’s own doing. You love to cherry pick the handful of stats that make Harden good while ignoring all other red flags. The ONLY stats you like to see are his “usage” and “assists per game”. 6 assists per game when he hogs most of the possessions shows he clearly doesn’t assist ENOUGH given his touches, further proven by the Rockets’ team total assists was bottom third in the NBA at a certain point near the end of regular season until NO, Toronto and Cleveland started minimizing their own assists.

            And WHAT. THE. HECK. You suddenly turned this into a Lin fans/Harden haters discussion when I never even brought up Lin. I never even claimed Harden was NOT the best SG though I will not bother coz so many people have different criteria on what the best SG “should be”. I’ve never even questioned his offensive capabilities. So yeah, I’m now a “Harden hater” in your book, ALL critics of Harden are “Harden haters”. Doesn’t matter if they’re trying to help, coz they’re all “haters” so they have no right to criticize.

            I talked about Howard’s locker room leadership and you say that means I question his on court performance.
            I talked about Harden’s defense/hogging/flopping and you say that means I also question his offensive capabilities.

            Had “fun” talking to you. I’m out.

          • KA

            Be out, but you didn’t acknowledge that defensive video was from less than 25% of the season. Lebron, Durant, Wade, and Kobe are all bigger ball hogs, but I guess you wouldn’t want them on your team either (and big floppers too). You again exercised you don’t understand basketball, the best offensive player on a team always has the highest usage (ball in their hands the most to make decisions, I just pointed out that for his usage he has the best assist ratio of any 2 guard in the league, and better ratio than Lebron and Durant), we can talk about PER, points per game to field goal attempts if you’d like. You refuse to acknowledge that Harden is capable of playing good defense (I KNOW he’s not a good defender outside of post D, but you can put together a 10 minute compilation of most players in the NBA playing bad defense over the course of a season), and I said when people talk about Harden hogging, they don’t know anything about basketball, and probably have never played competitively. Flopping, it is the rules, you contact a shooter when he gathers it is a foul. Durant swings his arms into defenders ala Kevin Martin all the time to draw fouls, no one calls him a “flopper,” it’s awareness and intelligence when he flops, and acting when Harden does. Harden got hosed on some calls in the playoffs too, but POR fans will say they didn’t call flops, meanwhile they called plenty of nonsense touch fouls for Aldridge, and though Harden played terrible, and the refs handed PDX game one, and the Rockets still almost pushed it to 7. Crucify Harden all you like because McHale doesn’t draw up anything but ISO in the last minute of a game, but if you think he’s a ball hog you must close your eyes for the first 46 minutes of every game, and you obviously didn’t watch the other video of offensive highlights, the last few minutes are passing highlights. You fail to acknowledge that there is any good defense in the video, rather quote other idiots with vitriolic nonsense to spew about fouls, not good anticipation(those aren’t officials posting about missed calls). Like I said, you obviously made up your mind, your perception is more important than actual statistics over the course of a season, and what you see with McHale’s inability to draw up plays outside of ISO in late game situations amounts to Harden not creating for others the first 46 minutes of the game. Watch some of those games again, when they hit Parsons or Lin for open late game shots, what happens? I remember an air ball on a wide open three from Lin set up by Harden to beat the Heat, but that’s probably Harden’s fault too.

          • MomentousPetey

            LOL go back to Clutchfans…..

          • KA

            Never been to clutch fans, by your response and ignoring realistic comparisons, you obviously only started watching basketball when Lin started playing. LOL all you like LOF. LOL in April when the Lakers are between 10th and 12th place.

          • tootskie

            That will have to see,if your Cornerstone,Heliflopper and Defensive Juggernaut rolled into one in James Hogden or Dwight Coward went down in injury then your classless team will be in lottery.Even those 2 clowns played together for 82 games…still they will not reach the play-offs and i dont intend to backed it with statistic.Why?It’s clear as BROAD DAYLIGHT====2 big ego driven,me first attitude,statpadding clowns playing iso boring basketball together.BYE BYE play-offs.bwa ha ha ha

          • KA

            Don’t intend to and can’t are the same thing to you, right? Keep smoking that crack, watch and see, not in the playoffs.. you’re high! Clear as broad daylight, like Lin being turnover prone, wait, I can actually back that up with statistics too. Glad you started watching basketball when Lin went off on 5 sub .500 teams. Not exactly a strong schedule in that 9 game stretch (4 of those teams finished 20 games under .500 or worse, only 1 team ended the season with a better record than the Knicks from that stretch as well, let’s ignore stats, reality is too painful). Remember the next game, when the Heat put Wade on him, 34 minutes, 1-11 shooting, 8 pts, 3 assists, 8 turnovers, sorry to bring up reality. Why are you even on a Rockets article, did they mention Lin?

          • tootskie

            My first NBA idol was Dennis Johnson after leading Seattle to championship and finals mvp award in 1979.Then came 2 future hall of famer in Magic Johnson and Larry Bird that change the NBA forever and the rest is history.Bernard King of New York,George Gervin of the Spurs,Mark Aguirre and Ro Blackman of Dallas,Andrian Dantley of Utah,The Twin Towers in R.Sampson/Olajuwon of the Rockets,Sidney Moncrief of the Bucks,Worthy,Scott,Jabbar of the Lakers,Parish,Mcfail of the Celtics,Sir Charles,Dr.J,Moses,Toney-Sixers,D.Wilkins-Hawks,Buck Williams-Nets,Alex English-Denver,Isiah Thomas,Joe Dumars of Pistons and seen this guys in action and you tell me i am LOF?LOL I am an nba fan as a whole and James Hogden cannot be compared to the superstars i’ve mentioned above and there is more,those are good or great defenders.You’ve seen Michael Ray Richardson of the Knicks play?He plays a lot like Jeremy Lin of the Lakers today.OGAG

          • KA

            You are out of your mind, I watched those guys too, English was great offensively, not a good defender, same for Dumars, neither ever were as efficient a scorer as Harden. Harden is 24, English played his best ball between 29-33, your delusional to think a 24 year old has peaked and won’t surpass him. Dantley, not a good defender, great scorer, 3.0 career assists per game, way bigger ball hog than Harden. You’ve got some serious hatred for Harden, who is not any more a ball hog than Alex English, Durant, Jordan, Lebron, etc. he just draws vitriol from Lin fans who can’t come to grips with his(Lin’s) performance against balanced competition (the Linsanity stretch was against weak teams mostly). Lin is good, but not as great as most think, watch Lin next to Kobe (who will likely have a higher usage than Harden). Believing that Lin, Harden, Parsons, Asik, musical starting 4′s with Patterson, Morris, and D-mo (none of whom started last year) with no bench (youth on the bench, 8th seed that year) is better than Beverley, Harden, Ariza, Jones, Howard, (same bench situation, youth) is slightly delusional.