Houston (CBS Houston) – The Houston Rockets have been perhaps “The” feel good story in the NBA this season. The Westgate Superbook in Las Vegas set Houston’s over/under win total for the year at 41.5 last September. They won 55. James Harden wasn’t named to any of the THREE All-NBA teams last season. He’s a shoe-in for the first squad this time around. New coach Mike Dantoni was viewed as a retread coaching hire. He’s reinvented himself, finding the fountain of youth and is a favorite to be named NBA Coach of the Year.
The Houston Rockets are three wins away from appearing in the conference finals in a season where they weren’t projected to make the playoffs. It’s truly remarkable, and credit should be shared; to Harden for accepting his new point guard role with aplomb, to Dantoni, to general manager Daryl Morey, who scrapped the superstar approach for a much more team oriented one, to his new additions, Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson, Nene, and Lou Williams, all embracing their roles and the vision for the team.
So why isn’t the city of Houston at a fever pitch for a team, THEIR team that has seemingly come out of nowhere and is on the verge of accomplishing the unthinkable? In a word, hope; in a phrase, the lack of said word. I feel badly about my lack of belief in the Rockets chances. I desperately want to believe they have a title shot. I can’t and for that, I’m sorry, Houston.
When Kevin Durant decided to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder last July 4th to create yet another NBA super team by the bay, hope vanished for the rest of the league. Stephen A. Smith called Durant’s decision “The weakest I’ve ever seen from a superstar.” The Warriors, organically grown up until that point, became synthetic. Golden State went from lovable to loathe-able overnight, and the NBA offices found themselves trying to manufacture drama for this season that has simply failed to exist from beginning to end. Imagine being an NBA season ticket sales rep for the vast majority of the league today. What, pray tell, are they selling? It certainly isn’t hope, or a title shot. Entertainment? Perhaps, but entertainment to me is the feeling that anything can happen. I don’t sense that here.
The Warriors are winning the NBA title, and there’s not a thing the Houston Rockets can do about it. Many teams are lucky to have one star, whereas the addition of Durant gave the Warriors four. No amount of execution or will power can overcome what Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, and Draymond Green can do on a basketball court in unison. Golden State won the title two years ago, and last year came within a game of repeating without the services of Durant. What happens when you add a top five player to that mix? For fans in Houston, their dominance makes this season a movie you’ve already seen. These playoffs, therefore, are devoid of unpredictability, drama, suspense, much in the way of excitement for every team in the playoffs.
Perhaps only the Cleveland Cavaliers are in better position to mount a serious challenge than the Rockets, but even then, hope is elusive. The solution? Two come to mind the NBA will never seriously consider; making every playoff series a best of three would drastically increase drama and excitement, but would also drastically impact owners wallets. Secondly, the NBA could adopt an anti-super team philosophy that allowed only one max player per team, with no other player permitted to be within five million dollars of the maximum contract annually. Sadly, the NBA Players Union would never sign off on anything that limits the players’ income potential, their golden goose.
At this point, you’re cursing at me for killing your buzz or insisting that you won’t let me take your Rockets playoff mojo. It’s too late. When the outcome of a sporting event is known ahead of time, much of the “why” behind our love for sport is lost. Why else are NBA television ratings down 20%. It’s a one team league, and every other squad, Rockets included, is playing for silver.