There seems to be a rift in the Houston Rockets’ locker room, as internal conflicts have come to light. The Rockets have come closer than any team to ending the Golden State Warriors’ dynasty but came up short once again. Now, with an uncertain offseason looming, the star duo of James Harden and Chris Paul appear to be at odds.
Conflict in Houston Between Paul, Harden, and D’Antoni
Shams Charania reported there have been internal tensions between the 2018 NBA MVP and his sidekick. The Houston Rockets offense depends almost solely on isolation basketball, volume 3-point shooting, and easy looks at the rim. Paul was reportedly unhappy with the style head coach Mike D’Antoni implemented, asking for more ball movement. He was not alone in these complaints, according to The Athletic.
The duo also reportedly had a verbal confrontation regarding ball movement in the locker room following their season-ending game six loss to the Warriors.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) May 23, 2019
For a team with no cap space or draft picks, and on the heels of back-to-back playoff exits at the hand of the Golden State Warriors, who general manager Daryl Morey specifically sought out to beat, this is bad news. Despite Harden’s MVP-level efforts over the last four seasons, the Rockets’ experiment has ultimately been a disappointment and a failure.
Future Uncertainties for the Rockets
The future is uncertain for this team. The D’Antoni system has come close to glory but has never amounted to much more than entertainment and early playoff exits. Of course, the future could be bright for Houston. Perhaps they will right the ship and hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy next season and their legacy becomes one of resilience and perseverance. Winning fixes everything, after all.
But what should we make of the Harden and Paul days up to this point?
The legacy of the D’Antoni-, Harden-, and Paul-led Rockets is currently one of underperformance, disappointment, and false hype. The guard duo was anointed “best backcourt in the league” by the media before playing a single possession together. Every year, the Rockets are heralded as the only legitimate threat to the Warriors, yet they come up short.
Past Shortcomings of the Paul, Harden Era
In 2018, the team cried foul as the Warriors narrowly escaped Houston with a game seven win in which Paul was injured. When he went down, the Rockets had a 3-2 series lead and home court advantage. The Warriors won game six at home and stole the Western Conference championship on the road, thanks to Houston missing 27-consecutive threes.
2019 provided a chance at redemption for Houston. They drew the Warriors early in the playoffs with Golden State coming out of a hard-fought first round battle with the Los Angeles Clippers. DeMarcus Cousins was out indefinitely, and reigning Finals MVP Kevin Durant left the series late in game five.
The Rockets had yet to lose on their home floor in the 2019 playoffs and had a home game against a banged-up Warriors squad to force a game seven for the second consecutive year. But they couldn’t get it done. In the immediate aftermath, Harden and Paul got into it while Morey went to Twitter to explain how great his team actually was.
vs the Warriors the last 3 years in the playoffs —
Rest of NBA: 5-34
— Daryl Morey 🗽🏀 (@dmorey) May 18, 2019
Last Word on the Houston Rockets
There is no denying how dazzling Harden’s iso style is. It won him the 2018 MVP and has him set as one of three MVP finalists in 2019. He made 60-point games look normal and effortless. But the style does not translate to playoff wins. Perhaps Paul and his counterparts have a valid argument.
Golden State prides itself on ball movement and selfless play, always finding the open man. The Rockets focus on ball domination and one-on-ones late in the shot clock. The Warriors have three championships since 2015 and are in the finals for a fifth-straight year. The Rockets will be watching the title bout from home.
If the Rockets simply “run it back” next season, it seems likely they will see similar results to previous years; regular season success, tons of points, and a front-row seat from the sofa for the finals. If changes aren’t made, this era in Houston will go down as one of the biggest “what if’s” in NBA history.
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