Chris Paul vs. James Harden, What to Believe

No man is an island and both James Harden and Chris Paul need to realize that...assuming there is even a problem at all.
No man is an island and both James Harden and Chris Paul need to realize that...assuming there is even a problem at all. Photo by Eric Sauceda
You would think in June the only thing basketball fans would be talking about is the NBA Finals or the draft, which is Thursday night, coincidentally. In Houston, it is reasonable that followers of the Rockets aren't exactly bouncing off the walls given the Rockets have exactly zero picks in this year's draft and a relatively stable starting five with no cap room to add significant pieces.

Of course, every year is a crap shoot when Daryl Morey is the general manager. He can turn a rather bland offseason into something akin to a fantasy basketball league with trades and maneuvering.

But this offseason, with its frustrating repeat of recent seasons' losses to the Warriors has seemed to stir the pot a bit more than normal. There was the rather open dialogue (let's not call it a feud yet) between owner Tillman Fertitta and the agent of coach Mike D'Antoni and the firing of much of the assistant coaching staff.

Still, the big news has been the ongoing reports of a significant battle between star backcourt mates James Harden and Chris Paul. Stories have been bandied about the internet reporting that they were frustrated over the style of the team's play, but would get over it because they are professionals, or that Chris Paul wanted out but they were working things out, Morey's rebuke of that story and one in which the Rockets were apparently trying to trade Paul.

Finally, there was a report from Yahoo Sports claiming the relationship between Harden and Paul was "unsalvageable."

In the era of the wildly circulating internet rumor mill, it is tough to know what to believe any more. Teams are well versed at both keeping their mouths shut and opening them only to spread disinformation. Agents like to stir the pot to force teams into spending money on their clients. Even players talk, sometimes to people who talk a little too much.

In the case of Paul and Harden, we do know a few things.

Paul, and some other players in the locker room, grew increasingly agitated over the way D'Antoni was running the offense (you notice players never complain about defense?). It boiled over in a rather public spat on the bench during game six of the Western Conference semifinals.

We also know that the Rockets were extremely successful running lots of isolation for Harden throughout the season. Harden basically carried the entire team on his back for months thanks to injuries to guys including Paul. Given the success, it is reasonable to assume Harden isn't ready to abandon that style of play altogether, but he has also been someone open to trying new things — from becoming a point guard to deferring more to Paul.

There is also the fact that the word "grate" or "grating" was used multiple times in the aforementioned story to describe Paul's personality. Any fan who has watched Paul throughout his career can completely see that having an impact, particularly given his obviously age- and health-diminished role in the offense, and the frustration he must have felt as a result.

Finally, there is no question the Rockets, as an organization, believe they are really close. So do the oddsmakers, who gave them the fourth best odds to win the title next season. The Rockets don't want to break up this party just yet, especially with all the changes bound to happen in the NBA this offseason.

There are two key questions that must be answered, however. What can the Rockets do to tweak their offense for greater stability? As great as Harden was, they cannot continue to place that kind of load on his shoulders. It is not just bad for the team but bad for him if he truly wants to win.

Also, can Paul adjust to his age and the role he must play as a result? There is no question the Hall of Fame guard lost a step last year. Without it, he can still be effective, but not the way he was before. It will be up to him to see if that is possible.

Whatever happens, it would be difficult to move Paul and his massive contract. The Rockets, Harden and Paul may be stuck with one another for at least another season. If they truly are feuding (or "beefing" as the kids say), they will need to bury the hatchet and figure out a way to coexist, or it will make them both look foolish.

That's even assuming they are fighting. Welcome to June in the NBA.
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke