James Harden has twice finished second for Most Valuable Player, and he’ll win the award this year. Chris Paul was the best point guard between Magic Johnson and Stephen Curry. Mike D’Antoni won 62, 54, 61 and 55 games with the Suns, and he has twice won Coach of the Year.
But neither of the Rockets’ two biggest stars nor their coach have won a championship.
They look primed to change that this season. Houston (65-17) had the NBA’s best record by six games. Curry is out injured, and the Warriors struggled for weeks until a Game 1 win over the Spurs. The Cavaliers look even more out of sorts. The Raptors have faltered annually in the playoffs. Celtics star Kyrie Irving is out for the rest of the season. The 76ers, led by Ben Simmons and, once he gets healthy, Joel Embiid, are young. No other team won even 50 games year.
As Harden said of the Rockets, “This is the year. For sure.”
But D’Antoni isn’t putting all his eggs in that basket.
D’Antoni, via Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN:
“I read something the other day [that said] sure James Harden should be the MVP, sure Chris Paul and James have been great, sure they set a franchise record [for wins by] about six games’ worth, but they’ll ultimately be judged by if they win a championship or not,” D’Antoni said before pausing. “Really? It doesn’t diminish what these guys have done.”
“So how I celebrate is I enjoy every freaking day I go into the locker room with these guys and go on the court and all the games we’ve won and all the trips we’ve made back from games on the road back [as] winners, that’s what’s enjoyable,” D’Antoni said. “Now obviously, we would love to celebrate it with a championship, everybody would.
“But it doesn’t diminish Steve Nash and how good he was for three or four years [with the Suns] in this league. I just don’t buy into that. I don’t buy it is all about the rings because there are a lot of guys that got rings that can’t play a lick. They happened to be on the bench with some great players, so I don’t buy into that totally.”
What a reasonable perspective.
THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO TIME FOR THAT RIGHT NOW.
Unhealthy obsessions tend to be rewarded in the playoffs. Listen to former greats brag about how they put their families aside this time of year. When some players have a maniacal focus, matching it might be the only way to keep up – whether you like it or not.
If the Rockets don’t win a title, the narrative will be about their lack of a championship mentality. D’Antoni’s comments will only fuel it.
That’s somewhat fair. Not winning a title diminished Nash’s career. It’d diminish Paul’s and Harden’s, too. It has been a hole on D’Antoni’s résumé.
But a lack of a ring shouldn’t completely nullify their other accomplishments. It’s one way to judge players and coaches. It shouldn’t be the only way, which is what I think D’Antoni is getting at.
The timing of his comments – just before the postseason – raises a few eyebrows.
Still, I’d bet on Paul and Harden being more emotionally invested in winning a championship this year. D’Antoni could balance that and help keep his team from putting too much pressure on itself.
That’s at least the positive spin until Houston loses, and everyone bashes D’Antoni for saying this.