Updated 12:02 PM EST, Fri, Jan 15, 2021

Dwight Howard and James Harden are Talking the Houston Rockets out of Becoming Legitimate Title Contenders

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The warning signs were there. He degraded former Orlando Magic teammates, alienated the Los Angeles Lakers, and now, Dwight Howard is doing the same in Houston.

Coming off a disappointing first-round showing against Portland, the Rockets are in an unexpected rebuilding phase, thanks in large part to Howard and two-time All-Star James Harden. They've traded away Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin and whiffed on re-signing key small forward Chandler Parsons.

To Harden, the losses don't mean much.

"Dwight (Howard) and I are the cornerstones of the Rockets," Harden told The Philippine Star. "The rest of the guys are role players or pieces that complete our team. We've lost some pieces and added some pieces. I think we'll be fine next season."

The Rockets don't work without Harden and Howard. There's no doubt about that. Where Harden goes wrong is in assuming they are the end-all-be-all of a team competing with the likes of San Antonio, Oklahoma City, and Los Angeles Clippers four times a year. Each club mentioned works as one. Their success comes as a group, not by one's individual effort.

Somehow, Harden and Howard fail to realize that and it will cost them in luring big name talent.

The reality is Houston has done virtually nothing to improve from last season. They've lost three key players and received Trevor Ariza, a couple of draft picks, and a few "role" players -- as Harden would put it -- in return.

To be fair, Ariza is coming off his best season since 2009-10, averaging 14.4 points, 2.5 assists, and 6.2 rebounds per game. He was a big part of Washington's 4-1 first-round upset of Chicago, and scored 30 points in a momentum-shifting Game 4.

Still, it's hard not to be offended by Harden's comments.

Parsons might have returned to Houston had Harden kept his mouth shut, but neither he nor "Superman" seem to grasp how their words affect teammates. Parsons said as much in a short, but potent Tweet.

https://twitter.com/ChandlerParsons/status/492393671237853184

Howard said his team in Orlando was full of people nobody wanted. He never meshed in the Lakers locker room because of his clownish attitude. Kobe Bryant challenged Howard on multiple occasions, likely rubbing the All-Star center the wrong way.

Howard never gave the perception of sternness in Los Angeles. Bryant saw it, the Lakers saw it, and the fans definitely saw it, yet they all wanted him back. All Howard could think about was being the big man; the face of the franchise without the responsibility.

Harden showed similar traits in Oklahoma City. The 2012 Sixth Man of the Year award recipient though he was bigger than the Thunder and wanted his worth, eventually kicking and screaming his way out of a definitive title contender.

Rockets general manager Daryl Morey called Harden a "foundation" player. That foundation isn't focused on making Rockets role players better.

https://twitter.com/royceyoung/status/492436698283118592

Houston is one player away from becoming a legitimate championship team. They eyed Chris Bosh but he decided on returning to Miami. Parsons was their sure-fire backup. He, however, wasn't feeling the love, and the Rockets surely weren't giving it.

Maybe the Rockets will be fine next year. Maybe Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas, and the addition of Ariza will slide into roles of the departed. And maybe, just maybe, Houston advances to the semifinals for the first time in six years.

But given Howard and Harden's "me first" mentality, I wouldn't count on it.

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