The Rockets are 35-35. One season after reaching the Western Conference Finals, they are struggling to even make the playoffs. Their team has looked disjointed and/or disinterested for too much of the season.
It’s clear they have some chemistry issues. It starts with their two biggest stars — Dwight Howard and James Harden want to play the game in different ways. They want different tempos, they want different things on defense, one wants inside-out, the other wants pick-and-roll and penetration.
But don’t think that means they don’t like each other, Howard told Sam Amick of the USA Today.
“People feel … like we hate each other,” Howard said. “I have no hate in my blood for this man, you know? For what? He came from nothing. We both came from nothing. And we’re doing something that we love. We grew up playing this game for fun, and we had big dreams of making it to the NBA. So I would never hate this man because I know what it took for me to get here, and he made it. So I want him to succeed. I want us to succeed. I just – before coming here – I watched endless hours of YouTube videos on James Harden, before he had the beard. I watched all that stuff, because I’m like, ‘Dang, this boy, he’s got so much talent.'”
But Howard acknowledges the two need to find a way to get on the same page on the court.
“We both have to figure out how we’re going to make this thing work,” Howard said. “It’s on us. We’ve got the rest of the season, and the playoffs, and we can do it. It’s a mindset. It’s a mentality. And the whole team will fall in line when me and him are on that same page and the team sees that we’re strong together.”
“If we just come together like we’re supposed to – and it takes time, you know. It takes time. If we can just come together like we’re supposed to and like we want to, then I’m telling you, we can win a championship.”
Yes, you read that right, Howard firmly believes this Rockets team can win the NBA title. This season. While we may all know that’s not going to happen, I wouldn’t want or expect Howard to say anything else. Or believe anything else. He should be confident that his team can get into a groove and challenge anyone. Just make sure you don’t go and bet on that belief.
Howard and Harden have been able to come together and make their differences on the court work for stretches — last season in the playoffs, in flashes for a couple of games here or there this season. And Howard has been the best defender on the Rockets by a mile this season. But the team is not consistent. And if you’re Daryl Morey, and you’ve already changed coaches this season, you have to be asking if this pairing can scale those heights again.
It’s a very relevant question with Howard expected to opt out this summer and test the free agent market. How much do the Rockets want to pay to keep him?