If James Harden’s playoff performance on Thursday night was described in ’80s hip-hop terms, we would say Harden “went out like a sucker.”
In 2022 terms, ESPN talking heads Kendrick Perkins and Stephen A. Smith skip all the speculation and say he quit on his team because that’s how he’s cut. After chronicling Harden’s nomadic NBA career, starting with OKC to his stops in Houston, Brooklyn and Philly, Perk basically called Harden a big baby.
“You quit. You quit. Why? Because you want things to go James Harden’s way. And we’re talking about a guy who’s a Top 75 player of all time. He needs to turn in his damn jacket.”
That’s strong words coming from a guy who’s never been a No. 1 option under the scrutiny that Harden faces, but many would see Perk’s demeaning accusation as accurate.
Harden played with no sense of desperation in Philly’s Game 6 elimination. He’s continuously been unable to rise to the occasion in the playoffs, but he did express optimism for next season.
“For me, personally, this has been a long year, but since I’ve been here, it’s been great,” he said. “We tried to build something so fast. We tried to build a championship-contending team so fast, which I still think we are, we’re just missing a few pieces, but other than that, we tried to go for it right away and we just came up a little short. It doesn’t stop, we still gotta put work in, and continue to keep going.”
Mediator Molly Qerim questioned how both SAS and Perk could so adamantly accuse Harden of packing it in after scoring just 11 points and taking just two shots in the entire second half against the Miami Heat.
“This is a pattern, Molly,” Perk insisted. “Sooner or later, if a person show you who they are, we have to believe it. … You don’t just disappear like this and not be aggressive. You got the ball in your hands all the time.”
Stephen A stepped in to give Molly some perspective on why they are accusing Harden of tanking.
“Were not talking about you shot 4-for-30. We’re not talking about scoring 11 points. We not even talking about the 22 minutes you played in the second half. What we’re saying is ‘You had the ball in your hands and to attempt (just) two shots is incredibly obvious and deliberate.’”
Perkins even referred to Harden’s fractured relationships along the way, claiming that a disgruntled Harden didn’t speak to his friend KD for years because the Slim Reaper chose to go to Golden State during his free agency sweepstakes, rather than join Harden in Houston.
When KD won those championships and eliminated Harden from the playoffs, it was a bitter pill to swallow for “The Beard.” Finally, Kevin Durant hooked up with Harden again in Brooklyn but paid a steep price, giving up talented ballers Caris Levert and Jarrett Allen. Harden flat left him after a season and a half.
In hindsight, maybe being Harden’s friend and understanding his lack of commitment to winning a championship is what made Durant join The Splash Brothers rather than pave his own way with Harden and CP3 in Houston.
All of that is water under the bridge now. James Harden still has a fan base that remembers his glory days, posting 60-point triple doubles and winning MVP. Every night was electric when Harden played with the pill.
It seems that those long nights at the strip club and fraternizing with groupies and rappers such as Lil Baby, however, have caught up to Harden as he settles into his 30s. Maybe he truly is washed as far as being an All-Star-level player is concerned.
But right now, the kite that’s being flown about Harden is even worse. They’re saying he tanked on the city of Philly because he couldn’t get his way. That’s two superstars in a row that did the fans of Philadelphia real dirty, taking more than they ever gave.