Whenever a superstar basketball player packs their bags and leaves, it usually sparks an inevitable period of decline for their former team. For the Houston Rockets, filling a gigantic James Harden sized hole in the roster was never going to be easy, especially following his parting comments, after one final appearance with the franchise.
“I literally have done everything that I can,” suggested a deflated Harden, when the Rockets had slumped to their second consecutive blowout defeat against the Los Angeles Lakers. The 100-117 scoreline told the story of a team that appeared to be going nowhere this season, a team that was “just not good enough” for Harden to remain any longer.
THE BEARD IS A BROOKLYN NET.
WELCOME TO BROOKLYN, JAMES HARDEN. pic.twitter.com/kFgVEd8qtU
— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) January 14, 2021
During an offseason that had seen many changes in the back office, Harden himself was also a disruptive figure. After demanding he be traded after nine fantastic seasons with the franchise, the 2018 NBA MVP, and eight-time NBA All-Star paved the way for an inevitable departure, turning up late for preseason training.
The Rockets had little choice in the matter, really, even with Harden remaining a central figure in the team as the 2020-21 Regular Season began. He was still their best player after all, yet the whole situation can’t have been healthy for the morale of the team. Harden was biding his time for the right offer, while the Rockets were simply going through the motions.
Not without some irony after his negative comments, with a pending trade to the Brooklyn Nets in motion and left out of the team to face the San Antonio Spurs, the Rockets actually produced a winning performance. However, by the time the Nets officially announced the arrival of Harden, the Rockets had slumped to three more defeats.
— Victor Oladipo (@VicOladipo) January 19, 2021
Nevertheless, the Harden exit sparked a four-team flurry of trades involving the Rockets. Along with various first-round draft picks and swap options acquired from the Nets, talented young Latvian forward Rodions Kurucs also headed from Brooklyn to Houston. While perhaps being one for the future, the 22-year-old is certainly a great prospect.
Danté Exum was brought in from the Cleveland Cavaliers, with the 25-year-old Australian point guard a solid signing to bolster the roster, albeit one who hasn’t had much fortune with injuries. He won’t see action for his new team until having recovered fully from a calf problem, following his final appearance for the Cavs against Orlando Magic in early January.
Finally, and perhaps the most attractive move of all, the Rockets landed the services of two-time NBA All-Star, Victor Oladipo. Equally adept playing as a point guard or shooting guard, the 28-year-old made an immediate impression, even though his first two games with the Rockets ultimately ended in defeats.
— Houston Rockets (@HoustonRockets) February 2, 2021
But proving there is indeed life after Harden, the Rockets have defied the latest basketball odds, suddenly finding a rich vein of form. After a fantastic run of six wins on the spin, the team has demonstrated an impressive level of unity and cohesion. Regardless of what their former superstar said, this is a team that could become genuine contenders.
The Rockets could now look to challenge the Memphis Grizzlies for leadership of the Southwest Division, as this rejuvenated team steadily begins to climb up the Western Conference standings. Recent form suggests there’s an air of both defiance and confidence about the Rockets now, they’re a team with something to prove.
Don’t be in the least surprised if this Rockets revival continues, making them look an increasingly good bet to be amongst the teams making the Playoffs this year. Continued good form and success would leave Harden eating humble pie, mostly because the Rockets actually look better off without the bearded one.