A Message to Rockets Fans: Soak It In

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The Houston Rockets are very good. Like a red-hot nickel ball, this take was hot enough to melt stuff in online videos before the start of the season. Then, just like that ball halfway through the block of velveeta, what was once thousands of degrees is now lukewarm. You can still find some people willing to argue that the Rockets and James Harden are, in fact, not good, but most of the resistance has melted away like so much bubbling cheese. Now that the world has been boiled by scorching hot threes, what’s next? Where do Rockets fans go next? The answer is simple:

Just soak it in.

It’s been a confusing road for the Rockets and their contingent of die-hards. Going back to the Yao Ming years, it’s been one rug yank after the other. The Rockets were very good, then Tracy McGrady faded away and Yao Ming was out for a season. Then right when he returned, his foot and career both broke in half. The Rockets stuck it out that season and then swung a blockbuster trade for Pau Gasol in December of the following season. It was nixed for “Basketball Reasons,” a phrase which will live in infamy. That summer, the Rockets went in on a rebuild, sneaking Jeremy Lin away from the Knicks and getting ready to prioritize youth. We all remember those grueling years without a true star, don’t we?

Actually, we don’t because James Harden fell in General Manager Daryl Morey’s lap immediately before the start of the 2012-2013 season. Excitement ran high and the Rockets saw visions of superstars and titles in their heads. Then they signed Dwight Howard over that summer and had an amazing season… until the playoffs. We don’t talk about the first Howard/Harden playoffs. Then the Rockets went on a defensive (!) tear without Dwight for half of the following season. Harden came in second for MVP voting and made it to the conference finals! Their time had come!

Until it hadn’t. The next season (2015-2016), one in which the Rockets had high hopes and plenty of health, was a continuous gut punch. They ended that campaign a paltry 41-41 after winning 56 the year before. Dwight Howard walked in free agency. Life was bad. And then the red-hot nickel ball thing happened, and here we are. Many teams have a long, grim legacy of mediocrity to look back on, one flat road that looks the same at every turn. The Rockets, on the other hand, pulled onto that road when Yao broke his foot the first time and then immediately took an offramp to a rally car course.

The Rockets haven’t made sense for a long time, and this is the latest, happy example of that. After the five-month misery that was last season, many fans and pundits just wanted a normal, fun season. Instead, they were given one of the best Rockets teams of all time. Last season, Harden was pointedly left off the All-NBA teams. This season, he’s the odds-on favorite to win the MVP (despite Russell Westbrook breathing down his neck). Expectations got lifted out of the gutter and adopted by a fabulously wealthy family overnight. How does one even react to that?

The easy way would be to just roll with it and ramp up demands and desires. At the start of the season, a winning record and good chemistry was good enough. Now, it’s tempting to change those criteria to “Finals or bust!” This, of course, would be a huge mistake. Heightened expectations are, on their own, the fast track to disappointment when things are already good. This season has been a massive success by any metric, and to take that away from this team and one’s self is a massive disservice. On top of that, making it to the finals would take a miracle at this point. Kevin Durant injury or not, the door for Houston is cracked at best. That may be enough, as it has been in football and politics (and dare I say it? The Cleveland Cavaliers), but that’s far from a guarantee.

It’s a bad time to be good, but it’s also always good to be good. It’s also a great time to be fun, and the Rockets are a giant pile of fun. This doesn’t have to be anything more than a delightful, passionate fling. Maybe next year we can talk about getting serious with this team, but for now just let this be what it is. Just hunker down, enjoy the atmosphere and soak it in. You’ve earned it.

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