Houston Rockets: How James Harden made the team relevant again

PHOENIX, AZ - NOVEMBER 16: James Harden
PHOENIX, AZ - NOVEMBER 16: James Harden /

Houston Rockets fans, heading into the second half of the season, here’s a bit of appreciation at how James Harden took a struggling franchise from obscurity to contending status.

Houston Rockets fans, how is a superstar defined? All-Star appearances, marketing appeal, and consistency are all traits attributed to superstars in the NBA.

One thing that separates the average player from true stars is impact. How much positive change a player brings to a franchise is a good meter to measure a player’s greatness.

In this aspect, few players match the impact James Harden has brought to the Houston Rockets. Not only does he consistently perform at an MVP level, he has revived a franchise that had missed the playoffs in the three years prior to his arrival.

Here’s a look at the way Harden brought a winning culture to Houston:

The Beard lands in Space City

The Houston Rockets were beneficiaries of Oklahoma City’s inability to keep their young core together after the 2011-2012 season. Unable to match Harden’s financial wants, the Thunder traded the Sixth Man of The Year for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb two first-round picks and some minor pieces.

This would be the beginning of Harden’s rise to stardom. Confined to being the third wheel to Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. Houston gave the talented scorer the opportunity to be the focal point of a team.

Harden took that opportunity and ran with it, proving the Rockets were right in signing him. His scoring improved from 16.8 points per game to 25.9 points while leading the team to its first playoff appearance after three consecutive ninth place finishes.

The Dwight Howard experiment

Seeing how well Harden performed as the main guy on a playoff team. Dwight Howard envisioned great things with the All-Star shooting guard. Speaking on why he decided to go from L.A. to Houston the center said, “Me and James Harden together I think can be really, really unbelievable.”

With renewed expectations coming aside another All-Star on the team, the Rockets finished fourth and second in the west in Howard’s first two years. The team performed well, reaching the conference finals after completing a miraculous comeback against the L.A. Clippers.

Then came rumors of chemistry issues between the two stars and Kevin McHale losing control of the team. The third and final year of the Harden and Howard duo ended with a disappointing eighth-place finish and a first-round exit.

Harden’s smooth transition to point guard

When Mike D’Antoni was appointed Rockets’ coach for the 2016-17 season, it was obvious that offense would be the priority. What wasn’t obvious was the change in position for Harden. Coach D’Antoni made it clear that he was making Harden the full-time point guard.

Harden not only transitioned smoothly, he took the league by storm. With career highs in both assist and points per game, Harden went head-to-head with Russell Westbrook for the MVP

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Despite an exceptional year, the Beard lost the MVP to the triple-double machine that was Westbrook. That wasn’t the most deflating lost though, as a whole season of carrying a team finally caught up to Harden in the conference semifinals vs the San Antonio Spurs. Fatigue was obvious as the perennial MVP candidate had terrible games by his standards,

Manu Ginobili‘s block at the end of Game 5 and Harden’s horrendous Game 6 performance brought a sad ending to an incredible year.

A promising year with the addition of Chris Paul

As seen by the performances against San Antonio, Harden needed some help. The Rockets got him exactly that in nine time All-Star point guard Chris Paul.

Following doubts over how the two ball dominant guards would coexist, the duo have proved they can play together, leading the Rockets to the second best record in the league and offering fans the only true threat to the Golden State Warriors.

Even with another heavy ball handler on the team, Harden is once again a front-runner for MVP. Harden is leading the league in scoring and is third in assists.

Next: Why Houston sports has reached its Golden Age

Final thoughts

The Rockets haven’t been true title contenders since the 90’s, and there was no sign of that changing anytime soon. Then Harden arrived, and with him came a fun and winning mentality. In this his sixth season in Houston, the Beard has raised his level once again, leading the charge in the league’s best chance of upsetting the dominance of Golden State. A true superstar in every sense of the word, Harden is one player that this city will not soon forget.