Let me start by saying there are a lot of moving parts that are responsible for James Harden's complete '180' from a (literally) defenseless, ball-dominant scorer for a completely underperforming team to one of the most selfless, versatile weapons in all of the NBA. It would be hard to argue that Mike D'Antoni hasn't been the most impactful personnel change with how well his free flowing style has fit the skill set of the someone who is more than likely your midseason MVP. The signing of shooters like Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon shouldn't be glossed over either, but I can't help but think that the biggest roster addition to this Rockets team was made by subtraction.
I'm usually excessively stubborn when it comes to my opinions on public figures and that's why I was pretty silent in appreciating James Harden's recent career renaissance. However, after watching him make small talk with a spry, young woman on the day she officially hit the century mark I have no choice but to go ahead and say it. James Harden has become likable, and in doing so has put to rest whatever debate was still to be had over who was most at fault for the disconnect that ailed the Rockets last year. The term "cancer" probably gets tossed around in sports discussions far too often considering it's the name of the most debilitating, deadly disease on the planet, but somehow that label doesn't even do justice to how much of a plague Dwight Howard is to those around him. I'm not going to blame the guy with the sociopathic smile for the all-too-common instances in which his former teammate got caught playing "matador defense" (h/t Walk Clyde Frazier), but I'm quickly starting to think that my hate for James Harden was largely by association.
I'm not going to sit here and say that the trajectories of the Rockets and the Hawks are completely influenced by the player that moved from one team to the other, but I'm certainly going to imply it. Dwight Howard has been out of Houston for merely half a season and they went from an undeserving 8th seed to a Western Conference powerhouse. He's been in Atlanta for no more than a few months and they are already siphoning off their starters for draft picks. I'm probably being too forgiving since James Harden damn near got an "awww" out of me when he put his arm around an adorable 100 year old woman on her birthday, but ridding his daily life of Dwight Howard's enigmatic ass has to be pretty close to the top on the list of reasons he has to smile.