Well, that didn’t take long.
It was always going to end like this, just a bit of a surprise it came so soon. The Rockets got thumped upside the head by the Lakers on Tuesday night, 117-100 in a game that wasn’t nearly that close. They were down 30 in the first half.
But that’s not really the story. After the game both James Harden and John Wall made it clear that they aren’t going to work together. Wall basically said that Harden had given up on the team and poisoned the atmosphere, and he’s not wrong.
Harden wasn’t any less harsh in his feelings. It’s what we’ve known Harden thinks, but he hadn’t really said it out loud during his alternative protest tour. He’d said plenty through his actions though, whether it was partying maskless wherever, showing up when he felt like it, and then looking like James Roper from “The Great White Hype.” Let’s just say that the powder blue Rockets uniforms were not helping his cause.
Here’s what Harden told the media after the loss.
“I love this city. I literally have done everything that I can.”
“I mean, this situation is crazy. It’s something that I don’t think can be fixed.”
“We’re not even close, honestly, to that team — obviously the defending champions — and all the other elite teams out there,” Harden continued. “I mean, you can tell the difference in these last two games.”
“We’re just not good enough — chemistry, talent-wise, just everything. And it was clear these last two games.”
Harden isn’t wrong. The Rockets aren’t going to win a championship. They missed their window. And the NBA is the only league with distinct player-power, which isn’t a bad thing. But the thing is, it can result in a player not taking responsibility for the mess he’s helped create. The Rockets had to get Russell Westbrook because it wouldn’t work with Chris Paul. And then it had to be Wall, because it wouldn’t work with Westbrook. The offense was designed to let Harden hold the ball for 20 goddamn seconds every possession. They lost their depth to afford and fit the players Harden wanted around him. And then it stopped working, and Harden simply wants to slip out the door.
Perhaps worst yet, though it may not go down in history that way, is that Harden put his teammates in danger with his actions. Going full Costanza has its comedic element for sure, but being out and about in Vegas or Houston or wherever without a mask and then showing up to work is dangerous. It’s reckless, and careless, and selfish. That certainly has had to have played a role in the Rockets thing this year just coughing and wheezing and spitting oil left and right.
It’s easy to understand where Harden is coming from. Players in his echelon, and there aren’t that many of them, are only viewed through the amount of rings they have. It’s Harden’s last threshold to cross, he’s done just about everything else. And there’s only so much time when he can be the main guy on a team that wins one. He hears the clock ticking and knows it won’t happen in Houston.
But he’s also responsible for it breaking in Houston. And he’s the one who thinks he should be parachuted out of it immediately.
He can’t have it both ways.
You out there in the world probably think that after a team went 8-8 in the most gasping way possible, backed into the playoffs simply because there was an additional spot this year, and then threw up all over itself on the national stage yet again, there would be major changes. If you think that, you’re not familiar with the Chicago Bears.
Reports have it that the weirdo McCaskeys are going to run it back again, keeping GM Ryan Pace and head coach Matt Nagy, even though both have spent two years proving that they can spend the four months of a football season spinning their wheels and end up right back where they started. GMs and coaches entering their last year of their contract definitely tend to act rationally, too, as both will be in the 2021 season.
Come back in a year’s time, when the Bears are coming off an 8-8 season and have been embarrassed by the Packers on national TV at some point. Welcome to Halas Hall, where the road never stops and the party never started.