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Culture / Sporting Life

Morey Admits That James Harden Gets Treated Like He Owns the Rockets

Jeremy Lin is not Surprised

BY // 12.06.16

Any doubt that James Harden largely runs the Houston Rockets should be thrown out the window. Rockets general manager Daryl Morey admitted as much in a startling TV interview that’s largely gone under the radar.

“We almost treat him like an owner,” Morey said of Harden in a sit-down with TNT broadcast during Houston’s impressive double-overtime win over the Golden State Warriors last Thursday. “He’s a very sophisticated player. Very forward-thinking guy. He knows what wins.”

That’s a rather emphatic admission for an NBA general manager to make about a star who hasn’t won anything yet — or even proven that he can successfully co-exist with another star-level player. Even LeBron James tries to pretend like he doesn’t run the Cleveland Cavaliers.

But there is Morey, essentially putting Harden on the same level as Leslie Alexander, the self-made New York billionaire who actually does own Houston’s NBA franchise. It’s not like any of this is a surprise to anyone who’s tried to play with Harden in H-Town over the years. Jeremy Lin, Dwight Howard and Chandler Parsons are all very well aware of the reality.

Heck, even a player with the skimpy resume of Donatas Motiejunas is seemingly trying to desperate escape from the Harden Rules All world of the Rockets. Team executives don’t usually admit to bowing down to a player in such a manner, though. Morey deserves some points for honesty — even if this approach to franchise building deserves plenty of questioning.

Not having a true franchise player will keep any NBA team running in place. Just ask the Celtics.
Not having a true franchise player will keep any NBA team running in place. Just ask the Celtics.

Then again, with Houston’s failure to attract marquee players in free agency (the Rockets didn’t even make Kevin Durant’s list of teams worthy of getting a meeting), Morey may not have much other choice. After the inexcusable discounting and dismissing of Lin and Howard’s problems with Harden, few seem eager to make the leap. In recent years, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony, Al Horford and Durant have all responded, “No thanks.” Mike D’Antoni’s Seven Seconds or Less Offense is still a dream for any offensive player, but with Harden the Rockets essentially aren’t running the new coach’s core system.

Harden is still dribbling the ball to death in large stretches — and dictating all the decisions. To call what the Rockets are doing free flowing would be disingenuous. Still, it’s working — and it represents a major improvement. It may be good enough for the fourth seed in the top-heavy Western Conference.

James Harden may not be the perfect franchise player, but he’s much better than the stark alternative. Not having a franchise player at all is the true kiss of irrelevance in the NBA.

Any Houston Rockets fans with lingering doubts about that only needed to watch the team’s 107-106 win over the Boston Celtics Monday night. Harden overpowered the Celtics smaller guards and befuddled their bigger wings — and there was nothing Boston coach Brad Stevens could about it. Even after the Celtics tirelessly built an eight-point fourth quarter lead, D’Antoni only had to insert Harden back into the game.

The Rockets had a clear go-to closer. The Celtics didn’t know who to go to — right up until the end when Horford missed a driving layup for the win at the buzzer. Franchise players, even flawed ones, trump no franchise player every time that truly counts.

The idea of an NBA star being treated like the owner of a team isn’t a bad one in theory. The players are the ones who make the league — not the billionaires lucky enough to buy in at the right time to make even more mega bucks.

It’s just this particular player running a franchise that seems a little suspect. The Rockets are completely in James Harden’s hands — for better or for worse. Excited?

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