But don’t lose sight of how good he and the Rockets were for each other:
In Harden’s eight seasons in Houston, the Rockets are the only NBA team to make the playoffs every year. And they didn’t just sneak in. Houston was the only team to seriously challenge the fully loaded Warriors. Golden State with Kevin Durant went 7-5 against the Rockets in the playoffs and 31-5 against everyone else. Though it fell short, that 2018 Houston team was absolutely championship-caliber. It just happened to exist at the same time as the Warriors.
Harden won an MVP, finished second thrice, third once, fifth once and got votes every year with Houston. He made six All-NBA first teams and an All-NBA third team. Harden also deserved a third-team selection the year he fell short.
So, of course, the Rockets will retire Harden’s number (No. 13).
The Rockets plan to retire Harden’s number in honor of eight record-breaking seasons, Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta said.
“James Harden will always be a Rocket,” Fertitta said via text message Tuesday. “Of course, we will retire his jersey. He made my first three years of owning this franchise unforgettable. The success he brought this franchise over eight years and the memories he created for our fan base/community (are) truly remarkable.”
The only surprise is the Rockets announcing this while Harden is still playing. Usually, teams wait until a player retires.
But not always, and the outcome was obvious. Harden is the franchise’s second-greatest player after Hakeem Olajuwon.
Harden will return to Houston with the Nets tomorrow. Reception will likely be mixed among the limited fans in attendance. But Fertitta’s statement will push fans toward showing appreciation rather than booing.
And even those Rockets fans holding a grudge toward Harden tomorrow will have an opportunity to celebrate him later at his number-retirement ceremony. Time will heal this wound.
Fertitta didn’t need the wait, though.