Hard times: James Harden can't even get any teammate love for a clutch game-winner.
Remember when Jeremy Lin supposedly held the Houston Rockets back? Or when Ty Lawson messed up Daryl Morey’s brilliant plans? Or when Dwight Howard loomed as nothing but the big problem in the middle?
Forget those “Red Nation Rally Time” T-shirts the Rockets draped over every seat Thursday night for home playoff game No. 1. The shirts should have bore the slogan, “We Have Excuses!” For this organization, always does. There are communist governments with fewer exiled scapegoats than the Rockets. With this team, it’s always about finding someone to blame rather than fixing the issue.
Now, it is the national media’s fault for picking on poor, little James Harden and pointing out how 75 percent of his team sure seems to loathe him. For Bill Simmons is advancing a “non-story” when he — along with anyone else of sound mind in the basketball-watching world — does a double take at the sight of the Rockets bench almost recoiling rather than celebrating Harden winning a playoff game with a sweet step-back jumper, right Daryl Morey?
In the immortal words of one Chad Johnson, “Child please.”
The world saw what’s been whispered about behind the scenes all season — the dysfunction riddling these Rockets has reached nearly unprecedented levels. When three of the four players in a TNT bench shot — Terrence Jones, Corey Brewer and Howard — show no joy whatsoever at a shot that gives their team the lead with 2.7 seconds left in a playoff game, it’s beyond telling. It’s a window right into the soul of the utter mess that Morey has created.
It’s hard for a great player to be hated. Michael Jordan savagely punched Steve Kerr in the face after one practice. Still, Jordan was largely loved nonetheless — and universally respected — by his Chicago Bulls’ teammates. Harden — as offensively skilled as anyone in the NBA today — can barely get a weak polite applause clap for a clutch last second shot against the 73-win Warriors. Rasheed Wallace coined the phrase “Ball Don’t Lie.” Well, this already viral video doesn’t lie either.
If this team isn’t happy when it’s pulling off a big upset in the playoffs, when is it ever happy?
When Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons, two team-first guys, played for the Rockets you never saw this type of overt utter dysfunction. But Morey never cared about character and he’s been left with a team of jaded, well-traveled malcontents dragged down by playing with the Harden, the NBA’s ultimate It’s-All-About-Me Star.
Is it any wonder that the 21-year-old Clint Capela is the one guy in the video who’s actually excited? Or that fourth-year pro Donatas Motiejunas — who played well enough under the playoff’s pressure caldron Thursday night to make that rescinded trade haunt the Detroit Pistons — celebrated the most with Harden on the court?
Capela and D-Mo still have hope. It hasn’t been beaten out of them by the Harden Experience. Yet. Still, Morey does not work to fix the problem. He doesn’t even honestly address the issue. Instead, he gets on Twitter to spin and desperately deflect attention away from it. He openly questions Simmons. He dismissively tweets about folks “grading cheer technique.” And Morey’s joined in the Twitter Wars by Rockets CEO Tad Brown who attacks Charles Barkley for daring to suggest the Rockets are displaying “fake hustle” in a Game 3 they eventually win, 97-96.
Is it any wonder why this Rockets team functions like one of the properties featured on Hotel Impossible?
The Rockets brass is always shocked whenever anyone in the media doesn’t fall in line like the fawning Houston media acolytes who happily accept any absurd explanation the team offers with a smile. No worries though. There is Rich Lord on 610 AM sports radio Friday afternoon claiming the telling bench reaction that’s the talk of the sports world is nothing but an “ESPN creation.” Never mind that Simmons and ESPN are mortal enemies and both — along with numerous other outlets — all know it’s a real story of team turmoil the Rockets simply don’t want told.
Yes, Harden gets a lot of assists. But he somehow makes many of them about him, too. The only time Howard is allowed to score these days is if Harden throws him an alley-oop after dribbling around for an eternity. That basketball is Harden’s and no one on the Rockets had better dare forget it.
Is it any wonder that the only time Howard seems to get truly excited during this playoff game is when he’s firing a basketball at Andrew Bogut, the Warriors’ Australian Agitator, and drawing a technical that propels Golden State back into the game?
This somehow all goes over the head of the Rockets’ MIT-educated general manager. The Warriors nearly manage to steal a road playoff game — despite sitting Steph Curry, despite getting a nightmare game from their second best player (Draymond Green), despite a bad shooting one from Klay Thompson — because their bench outscores the Rockets’ non-existent bench 43-18. But Morey dismissively drove away Lin, one of the few players in the NBA capable of getting a triple double off the bench? This is your perennial NBA Executive of the Year candidate?
The funny thing is that Morey likely does desperately miss Lin today. Because Morey is in dire need of a scapegoat. And with all the bigots and Lin Only Haters out there, there’s never been an easier scapegoat than Jeremy Lin; the phenomenon of it being open season on Lin is well documented. Morey’s running out of options now, though. Lin’s in Charlotte, maybe bound for Brooklyn in the offseason. Who is Morey going to blame today? The national media?
That can’t last much longer. Sooner or later, all those pointing fingers find the true problem. Video don’t lie.