The Houston Rockets and the Oklahoma City Thunder made a rare blockbuster trade on the eve of the start of the regular season, with James Harden headed to Houston and a package of players and draft picks headed to Oklahoma City. However, the Houston Rockets have a major lack of veterans on their roster, a problem that the acquisition of Harden does not address in the slightest.
Before making this trade, the Rockets had made headlines previously by stockpiling young players and draft picks in the hopes of acquiring All-NBA center Dwight Howard. That reality is looking less and less possible, so when the Thunder and Harden had trouble agreeing on a contract extension, Houston was ready to make an offer.
Now they have what they think is their superstar for the future, but is he really what the team needed? The truth is that Houston needed a veteran presence on their squad, and Harden really does not fill that need.
Harden is not Proven
Harden is only 23 years old and has played just three years in the league. The Rockets are putting many of their eggs in the basket of this young player who has not yet shown the ability to be the type of star they really need. He has played in 220 career games, but he has only started in seven.
The Rockets needed to trade away some of their younger players for strong veterans who knew how to win. Now, they are expecting Harden to lead the team, a player who has never been required to lead. It is not as hard to win when you get to share the court with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, two of the best basketball players on the planet.
Now, Harden will be expected to lead a team on which he is the No. 1 guy and his “Big Three” consists of himself, Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik. There is very little that Harden has done in his career so far to prove he is ready for such a monumental undertaking.
The Rockets Need Some Age
On a team with only a single player over the age of 27, there are really very few players who have proven that they can be depended on to be consistent, night in and night out in the NBA. That is the biggest problem facing the Houston Rockets this season.
Jeremy Lin played well in spots for the New York Knicks last season, but there is no denying that he completely disappeared when facing elite teams. Omer Asik has shown promise as a young big man, but to say that he is a franchise center right now is a laughable stretch.
There are many other young players on this team that could end up being very good players, but we really have no idea yet.
The point is this: The Rockets need players to count on. Veterans are players you can count on. The Rockets have no veterans. It is that simple.
Unfortunately, Harden simply does not answer the need his new team had.
Leadership Wins Championships
When you look at the best teams in this league, there is one attribute they all have. Leadership is what makes regular talent into talent that wins. Oklahoma City, Miami, Boston and Los Angeles are where they are because of the leadership they have that channels their talent into a winning effort.
As of this moment, the Houston Rockets completely lack that kind of leadership. There is not a single player on this team that has had a meaningful role for a contender other than Harden, and even he has never been in the role he is in now.
The Rockets need a veteran presence to balance their team and point the ship in the right direction. If Houston is expecting Harden to do that, there is a decent chance it will be disappointed.
The history of the NBA is full of teams that pinned their hopes on players who never lived up to the expectations.
While we all sincerely hope that Harden does not suffer that fate, we cannot exclude the possibility from the conversation. The Houston Rockets are a young, seemingly-disorganized team that needed a veteran or two in order to compete. James Harden is not that type of player. He may be one day, but for right now, he is an unproven “superstar.”