The Houston Rockets pushed the Warriors to seven games in the 2018 Western Conference finals, giving Golden State its greatest postseason challenge since 2016 in the process. And they did it without All-Star point guard Chris Paul for the final two games of the series — both losses.
“We were a half away from the Finals,” Harden told the media after accepting regular season MVP honors for the first time in his career. “I don’t think there’s a piece we need to bring in or take away. We’re great with what we have. Our main focus is getting better, getting healthier, and then doing what we do.”
Harden also pointed to the acclimation of veterans like Paul, P.J. Tucker, and Luc Mbah a Moute — all in their first year with the Rockets — as reason to believe Houston can be even better in 2018-19.
The Rockets have been one of many teams linked to James this offseason. The four-time NBA MVP is still technically under contract with his hometown Cavaliers, but can opt out of the final year of his deal with Cleveland to become 2018’s most sought-after free agent. Houston would have to get creative to clear the salary cap space to bring James to Texas — his max contract would start at $35.1 million for 2018-19 — but there are a handful of routes general manager Daryl Morey could take to get there.
Finding the space to add James means blowing up the Rockets as they currently exist. Harden doesn’t see the logic in that, and he makes a strong argument. This Houston team led Golden State 3-2 in the last stop before the NBA Finals when Paul was lost for the rest of the year with a hamstring injury. That took the team’s No. 2 offensive option and a heady defender out of the mix, and while Eric Gordon helped shoulder his scoring burden, the 0-12 shooting performance of Trevor Ariza in Game 7 showcased how badly the Rockets needed their veteran point guard’s scoring touch in the biggest game of the season.
A healthy Paul could be the difference between Houston holding a championship parade this June and watching the Finals from home. Rather than dismantle a perfectly good contender, Harden would prefer to run it back and see what the Rockets have got instead.