One year after advancing to the Western Conference Finals, the Houston Rockets were arguably the most disappointing team in basketball. They went 41-41, barely snuck into the playoffs and were promptly eliminated in five games by the Golden State Warriors.
“It was disappointing,” Rockets guard Jason Terry said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “Very disappointing season for me. Obviously when you get into your later years, it’s all about competing at a high level and going for that championship. For me, any year I don’t either get to the Finals or win it all, it’s an utter disappointment. To have that talent we had this year on a team in Houston was very disappointing, man. Very disappointing.”
The Rockets, of course, are built around James Harden and Dwight Howard, but that combination simply hasn’t worked. Terry, 38, was asked if the relationship between the two superstars is toxic.
“I wouldn’t call it toxic,” he said, “but when your two superstars – I wouldn’t say they didn’t get along because off the court they were great – but on the court when they don’t mesh, when there’s no rhythm to how they play together where they can co-exist, then it trickles down to the team. Trying to get those guys to get on the same page two years in a row, it’s been tough. It’s not been an easy process. For whatever reason, those two, they didn’t fit. It was my role to kind of get them to try to fit. For me, it was a work in progress. I thought for a while it would go good, but just any little breakdown we would have, the media would make it like it was those two. That’s what it is. When you have two superstars that demand as much attention as they do, there’s going to be some friction. But at the end of the day, it’s just basketball, man. I don’t think those guys didn’t like each other. I just think their two styles of play vary and the one guy needs it inside and the other guy obviously controls the game from the outside. It didn’t work.”
Howard averaged 14.0 rebounds against Golden State, but he also averaged just 13.2 points, this after averaging 13.7 points during the regular season – his fewest since his rookie season in 2004-05. Howard has been in the league for more than a decade but often looks lost on offense.
Does he even know who he is as a player?
“I believe we all know who we are as players,” Terry said. “But again, there has to be a structure put in place where each player can maximize his individual talents in the team concept. I don’t think we had that structure this year for whatever reason.”
Harden, meanwhile, was once again among the league leaders in scoring, but he struggled out of the gate and seemed off all season, shooting just 43.9 percent from the floor. Terry thought that Kevin McHale’s firing was “premature” and wishes the front office had shown more patience following Houston’s 4-7 start, especially after bringing in several new players in the offseason, including Ty Lawson.
“(Harden) missed some time in training camp, practice time, that probably was very valuable to his conditioning,” Terry said. “But again, it was an adjustment period. I think early on we tried to take him off the ball, which, he doesn’t play as well when he’s off the ball, and (we) tried to make Ty Lawson a facilitator. James Harden is one of the best facilitators we have in this game. I think he and LeBron are 1 and 2 when you talk about being able to control a basketball game from an offensive standpoint. So when you put him off the ball, it’s an adjustment and it’s something that he hadn’t had to do, even when he was in Oklahoma as a sixth man. When he came in the game, it was his ball and it was his game. That was an adjustment for him early on.”
As for Harden’s defense, Terry said the bearded 26-year-old is “just not there yet.”
“He’s just such a dominant offensive player that his defense, it gets overlooked – and it should to an extent,” Terry said. “But when you’re a superstar, everyone’s going to nitpick and find little holes in your game unless you’re winning. Steph Curry is not the best on-ball defensive player out there. But they don’t show it on SportsCenter, him getting blown by. They show him hitting threes from half-court because they’re winning. So as James gets further on in his development and he starts to win more games and more meaningful games, meaningful playoff series, they’ll start to overlook those backdoors. I guarantee that.”
Whether Harden wins any of those meaningful games with Howard remains to be seen.
“Going forward, if those guys stay together, there’s going to have to be a coach that comes in and puts structure in place,” Terry said. “Yeah, you want to play one way, but if you don’t have the personnel to dictate that style of play, then you have to alter it and mold it towards your players – unless you’re Gregg Popovich and you can get anybody to do whatever you want to do. I think it starts at the top, and they got to get that thing corrected.”