Last summer, Chandler Parsons played a pivotal role in recruiting Howard to come play in Houston. Darren Heitner of Forbes even quoted one source as saying:
Dwight didn’t waffle at all. It was all contrived for clicks. No other team could win next year, and he developed a good friendship with Chandler. There is no one on the Rockets more responsible for D12 in Houston than Chandler. He would be in Dallas, or with the Golden State Warriors, or stayed in LA without him.
They came across as a tight-knit group. It was all fun and games—literally. Jeremy Lin revealed via YouTube that the Rockets didn’t clash, but they did play Clash of Clans. Ten Rockets played the popular game together.
Lin’s video also showed them having fun with a “Howard sucks!” chant.
They looked like a team that genuinely liked each other and enjoyed spending time together.
What a difference a year makes. This summer, there has been a different story coming from the Rockets.
It all started when the Dallas Mavericks, division rivals, made a max offer to Parsons, which Houston declined to match.
"It won't affect us at all. We have myself and James. We have the best center and the best two guard in the game on the same team. It's on us."
Let’s pause a moment to be fair here. This was a little overblown by the media. What was he supposed to say? “We’re giving up on the season and cashing it in! We can’t win without Parsons!”
Answering loaded questions will always get you in trouble.
And then Harden followed up Howard with a miscue of his own. While on tour in Manila with some other NBA players, he told Joaquin Henson of the Philippine Star, “Dwight (Howard) and I are the cornerstones of the Rockets. The rest of the guys are role players or pieces that complete our team.”
The media was apoplectic. Harden is right: He and Howard are the cornerstones, and the rest of the guys are role players or pieces that complete the team. It is the type of thing that’s perfectly innocent if someone else says it, but if one of the “cornerstones” does so, it sounds vain and dismissive of the rest of the team.
It prompted the following tweet from the recently departed Chandler Parsons:
During the Team USA practice in Las Vegas, per Chris Haynes of CSNNW, Parsons said the former teammates made up:
"We’ve been in the casinos together and everything. We talked about it and it’s in the past. We’ve been hanging out, talking. We played on the same team a few times here, which was cool to get back out there with him. There are no hard feelings."
There was also the fiasco surrounding a misunderstood comment by Donatas Motiejunas about whether the stars ate with the team. Initially, it seemed he was suggesting they didn’t, but it turned out that he was saying he’s not likely to eat with Howard and Harden because they had different tastes.
In isolation, each of these things can be explained as misunderstood, misrepresented or misreported. Technically, there are no actual problems.
In the age of social media, though, there’s a tendency for the accumulation of nothing to become something.
There’s something I like to call the “wag point.” It’s the precise moment in time where media representation starts altering reality. If the Rockets aren’t there yet, they’re getting precariously close to it.
And that is where Harden and Howard need to be proactive, even if you maintain that every “controversy” is perfectly innocent. Media reports can start to influence the harmony of the team, even if it is just fine.
Getting out a more positive message is essential, and there has been some of that. Previously, Harden told me how much his teammates helped transition from sixth man to first-scoring option:
It would probably be hard for anybody to go from a sixth man to a starting and high-level role, but my coaches and teammates have done a great job of helping me throughout that process. It's been difficult at times, and sometimes it's been great. You know, as long as you got teammates who are willing to help you and how you help them, it makes the job a lot easier.
That’s just the surface, though, and if it’s not accompanied with something personal, it means nothing.
Basketball players are people, too, no matter how much they make. Money can get the best players, but chemistry can’t be bought. Guys can still get offended and have their feelings hurt. Those types of things can be helped by amazingly simple things for the same reasons.
Food, phone calls, conversations and the types of things that go with being friends never go away.
Going out for clams with Motiejunas would do wonders. Having the whole team over to Harden’s for a barbecue would do even more. It sounds simple, but it’s true: Chemistry is developed as much off the court as it is on it.
"It's one of the closest teams I've been on. We talk almost every other day. We play around. When we're on the road, we all go out together, we eat together. It's a real tight-knit group."
Little things become friendships. Friendships develop chemistry. Chemistry produces wins.
It’s an irrefutable fact of music: You cannot harmonize in isolation. And you can’t bring harmony to a team by yourself.
Houston lost some of those role players from last season, including Lin, Omer Asik and the aforementioned Parsons. This will be the second year with Harden and Howard as teammates, yet they will be expected to be more with less. Furthermore, they'll be asked to do it in a tougher Western Conference.
That's why it's so critical they develop chemistry and synergy with the new group. They need to become greater than the sum of their parts.
The Rockets have eight new pieces: Trevor Ariza, Jeff Adrien, Alonzo Gee, Scotty Hopson, Nick Johnson, Clint Capela, Joey Dorsey and Ish Smith. Howard and Harden would be wise to contact each one of them (if they haven’t done so already).
It would be good for them to define themselves to their new teammates and not have the media do it for them. And it’s best to not wait until training camp to do that. Eat with them. It’s as simple as that.
Howard and Harden are in control here, but only if they choose to be the metaphorical “dog” and decide to wag and not be wagged. The more harmony they cultivate with their team by doing little things, the better the team will function as a unit on the court this season.