Could the Houston Rockets Have Still Been a Playoff Team without James Harden Acquistition?

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Feb 20, 2013; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden (13) drives to the basket during the fourth quarter against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Toyota Center. The Rockets defeated the Thunder 122-119. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The thing is, this team was on its way to being very good and Harden merely accelerated it. As to whether the team could have made the playoffs with Kevin Martin starting at 2-guard, we’ll just never know the answer to that.

They were projected by most to win no more than 30 games, and the 44-38 record I predicted for the Rockets in my Southwest Division preview for Hardwood Houdini has turned out to be about spot on. That prediction was cast before Harden had been acquired.

The Thunder haven’t lost much of a step without Harden either, suggesting the chasm between a guy like Kevin Martin and James Harden may not be quite as big as most think after all. But it really isn’t just about usage rates or a player’s high ceiling. It’s about a defined role, and what the team requires to win.

The Thunder didn’t need Harden’s talents to be the team they have been for the last several seasons, and the Rockets likely could have been a very good playoff team without Harden, too. Martin is a good shooter, and the Rockets are a team that has succeeded largely due to team play, which likely would have been there whether or not Harden were part of it.

The majority of people may feel inclined to feel that subtracting a 25 point per game scorer and reinstituting a guy like Martin who averaged closer to 20 a game, would decimate the Rockets’ playoff hopes; but I just don’t think that should be the case.

Lin’s role would have expanded and evolved, and the Rockets would have been a very good team without an elite talent like Harden. It’s not as implausible as it sounds when the importance of well-rounded team basketball is given its proper place, even in the NBA.

The Rockets play well together as a unit, and just because we know that the Harden-led version we see is an effective model doesn’t mean the team couldn’t have been very good had the former Arizona State Sun Devil remained in Oklahoma City with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. The team would lack beard swag, but likely still be a very good playoff basketball team.

Brett David Roberts is the lead editor of Presto In the Paint, but is also a Houston Rockets’ featured columnist at Bleacher Report.  Follow Roberts on Twitter @BDRHoops