Culture / Sporting Life

Trade Mad James Harden Makes It Harder and Harder to Believe In Him — John Wall Looms as Another Desperate Appeasement Attempt by Rockets

Dumping Russell Westbrook Makes Tilman Fertitta's Franchise More Curiosity Than Contender

BY // 12.03.20

No superstar makes it harder to root for him than James Harden. The list of elite players Harden could not play with is now longer than Pinocchio’s nose and Netflix’s inventory of Christmas movies combined.

Dwight Howard (OK, most of the NBA gets that one). Chris Paul, one of most real and grounded professional athletes you’ll ever meet.  Now, Russell Westbrook, the running partner Harden handpicked just a year ago to help push CP3 out of the Toyota Center doors.

Westbrook is just the latest star who ultimately found it impossible to co-exist with Harden in H-Town. Larsa Pippen has a more stable record with partners than Harden.

The Houston Rockets — which operates more like James Harden’s franchise than Tilman Fertitta’s these days — traded Westbrook, who made third team All-NBA last season despite having to adjust to a new franchise, for John Wall, a point guard who was last good three years ago. And a heavily-protected first round pick.

All in an attempt to please their mercurial superstar who outdoes any Hollywood diva in history in being difficult.

John Wall was a revelation when he first came out of Kentucky. . . in 2010. Now, he hasn’t played a single basketball game since December 26, 2018. The last time Wall played more than 41 games in a season?

FERN FREEMAN

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You have to go back to 2016-17 for that.

If the best argument for a deal is. . . well, it’s better than the DeAndre Hopkins trade, things are not ideal.

Maybe Harden figures that when Wall inevitably breaks down again, the Rockets will be forced to let him take every single shot in a 48-minute game.

Yes, there are reports that Wall’s speed is back. There are few players who went coast-to-coast as breathtakingly as John Wall in his prime. Kevin Durant swears that John Wall “looked amazing” in a recent workout. Yes, Harden and Wall supposedly bonded in workouts in Miami this offseason.

So. . . Harden always falls in love with a new potential co-star in the offseason. And The Beard has already made it clear he’d rather be in Brooklyn with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving anyway.

John Wall used to be true star. Can he still be?

You have to feel for first-year Rockets general manager Rafael Stone, who may be the most enthusiastic GM in the league and one of the most hamstrung. Stone’s already made some excellent moves. Stephen Silas brings the resume of one of the most innovative rising coaches in the game, even if losing Mike D’Antoni should haunt the organization. Gambling on Christian Wood’s breakout continuing represents one of the smarter free agent buys. DeMarcus Cousins could be a steal if he can finally stay healthy.

Yet, D’Antoni, Daryl Morey, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook. They’re all gone. And the Rockets are still desperately trying to appease a forever unsatisfied star who’s rarely been able to raise his own game in the playoffs.

The Rockets have now become more of a curiosity than a relevant contender through all the Harden machinations. Tilman Fertitta is always interesting. But his team has not been deemed worthy of appearing on national TV in any of the NBA’s first three showcase days of the upcoming season. This rush towards irrelevance may be the most alarming sign of all for a natural promoter.

How bad is it getting? A few Houston Chronicle columnists are even bothering to start pay attention to Kelvin Sampson’s University of Houston basketball program, which only has been the most interesting sports show in the city for several years now.

More than ever, the Rockets are James Harden’s world — and James Harden’s world alone. But it may not be such a nice play to live anymore.

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