Would I like James Harden if he wasn’t playing for the Rockets?
I found myself mulling over this the other day. In the last couple weeks a narrative has emerged from the crooks and crannies of the internet and it seems even James Harden is concerned by it. It’s a narrative that in all likelihood is a by-product of all the new found attention that a national audience brings and I think it can be summed up like this; ‘James Harden doesn’t and can’t play defense. He embellishes contact in order to get to the line and sometimes he straight up flops.’
The NBA has already hit Harden with a warning and a fine for two incidents in which they deemed he flopped in order to persuade a call. Both of the incidents were called fouls and did affect the outcome of the game. Wesley Matthews even got a technical for arguing against one of them.
This YouTube video has also gotten quite a bit of traction. Showing Harden flat footed and disinterested during his on and off ball defense against the Clippers on November 4th.
To anyone who actually watched the Rockets last year, none of this is news. It was apparent very early on in Harden’s tenure that the fervent defense he displayed with the Thunder was not going to be one of his qualities as a Rocket. However for the most part it was hard to care. Harden was OUR superstar and we loved him for bringing us back to relevancy. For each one of his uninspired efforts on the defensive end, he would make a stupendous play in transition and it was unbelievably fun to watch. The mantra was that, ‘If we can get another allstar to play alongside James, then he won’t burn so much energy on offense and his defense will improve.’ “Ok” I said, “Man I hope we get
Chris Paul Kevin Love Dwight Howard so that we can dominate BOTH sides of the floor most of the time.”
I think my own personal desire for defensive basketball exists because I got addicted to the Rockets during Jeff Van Gundy’s time with the team. He was THE premier defensive mind in basketball and his teams played a knock down drag out style of ball that made you feel tough just for watching. Chicago Bulls fans can relate because Van Gundy’s primary protégé, and the league’s new resident defensive specialist, Tom Thibodeau (definitely didn’t spell that right the first time) has been their extremely successful coach since 2010. Yeah their offenses are sometimes…frustrating…but overall I love those games.
So when I see Harden, a grown ass man with athletic ability to burn, take such a lack-a-daisical mindset onto the court it kind of irks me.
However I don’t think there is any amount of defensive ineptitude that could make me want him to not be a Rocket. This article isn’t about me wanting him on the team, it’s about whether or not I would like him as a player if he were on another team. Tim Duncan is a player I will like and respect no matter what scenario he ends up. Same goes for players like Lebron James, Kevin Garnett, and Andre Iguodala just to name a few. It’s not about whether or not they are a super star; it’s about them being that guy who goes and busts his tail on both ends of the floor. Not because he saw a YouTube video that made fun of him but because he wants to compete. He takes it personally when someone scores on him and he’ll be damned before he let it happen again.
After the Clipper game and the posting of the video I linked above, according to Rockets radio broadcaster Joel Blank, Harden was bothered by that video and wanted to prove he was better than that. So he went out in the Portland game and looked like a totally different player on defense while still maintaining his offense capabilities (33pts on 11-18). The Rockets dominated the entire game. I thought the ship had finally been righted, but two nights later the Laker game forcibly held the ship underwater. Does someone need to loop that video on the expensive new display monitors over the lockers?
Harden doesn’t like the version of him that the public is forming. While addressing the media he said that he was going to appeal the fine that the NBA laid on him for flopping.
“The first one, I really did get hit in the face. I am trying to appeal that right now,” Harden said. “I really did get hit in the face – was just a late reaction. I don’t want to be known as a flopper or a guy who is looking to get calls. I am not that type of player and I never have been.”
You know James, I would really like to believe you but there is a lot of evidence to the contrary buddy. If there is anything I have learned from Allen Iverson, Manu Ginobili, Dirk Nowitzki, and anyone who has ever played for the Jazz, I don’t like players that use flopping like it’s a turnaround jumper. Actually the Jazz hate might be unrelated but I stand by the others.
I’ve heard the argument that James Harden’s offensive impact is so vast that it doesn’t matter if he plays any defense at all. I can’t always argue against that because sometimes his offense is so fantastic that it can offset every other negative act. But on the days that it doesn’t, wouldn’t it be nice to know the Rockets could win either way? There is a lot of bad defense played by the Rockets and Harden isn’t the only problem by any stretch of the imagination. However when Parsons or Lin makes a mistake, its a full speed defensive screw up, not a mistake born out of sloth.
So to conclude, no, I don’t think I would be a fan of James Harden if he was on another team. I think his disinterest in defense and penchant for flopping make him a tough sell to me. Winning a championship takes the efforts of all parties involved and I don’t think we as fans should have a different set of expectations for each player. I honestly hope he feels the way that his words suggest because I would like nothing more than to take off this Chuck Hayes jersey and replace it with the number 13.
But that’s just my thoughts, what are yours?