James Harden wants out of Houston and he’s going to eventually get his wish. I try to tell people that it’s a new day of player empowerment in the NBA. Houston was in trouble as soon as the Bubble season ended, they hired Stephen Silas ( a coach with defensive principles ingrained in his style) and then traded Harden’s boy Westbrook for former Wizards star John Wall, who is returning from injury.
Some have suggested that the Rockets make Harden play and fulfill the contract as he sulks and tries to find ways to get himself traded, but an approach of that nature won’t last long with a guy who has already made a bag in the league and is known to be very eccentric and temperamental at times.
Back in the days, when players had no power and owners could move and abuse them like chess pieces on a board or cattle to be sold and labored, Harden would be in a jam. He’d have to ride the contract out and then bounce, but the road to his departure would probably be filled with confrontations and refusals to play and a media mess that would greatly damage the organization and potentially his trade value.
Today’s climate is a bit different, especially for a prolific scoring champion and perennial MVP candidate like The Beard. Harden has a lot of control over his own situation, despite the contractual setbacks.
Rumors of Harden being traded to the New Jersey Nets or Philadelphia 76ers have been rampant ever since he let it be known that he wasn’t feeling Houston, Texas anymore.
The perennial All-Star has given H-Town the 8 peak years of his career and has led the league in scoring the past three seasons. While he has to shoulder his share of the blame for Houston’s inability to get out of the West, the fact that he’s disappeared at some crucial spots in the playoffs shouldn’t albatross him into remaining in Houston.
But if the $38 million man does leave, his legacy will be defined as an unsuccessful one because he flat out failed in his career-defining moment. Every icon needs one of those moments in time. Harden puts up numbers like an icon. He dresses like an icon and does things for the community like an icon.
But where’s his defining moment?
Like when Willis Reed hobbled back onto the court. When Magic filled in for Kareem and led the Lakers to the championship. When Bron came back against the Dynasty Warriors. When Dirk took advantage of his one real shot and knocked off The Big Three in Miami. Kawhi leading Toronto to its only franchise title. When Shaq put the battery in Wade’s back and he exploded like a Molotov cocktail, willing Miami to the ch’ip. Kobe’s back-to-back titles without Shaq.
Harden’s moment of truth was that 2018 Game 7 against Golden State with Chris Paul sidelined. He scored 32 and had a whale of a first half, but Houston needed 52 from him to seal the deal. He also shot a John Starks-like 2-of-13 from three-point range and 12 of 29 from the field, which turned out to be the difference. Steph Curry stole his shine that day.
So you can say Harden failed in his superstar NBA moment. Even if you believe that, however, 8 years with one team is a long time. If Harden is ready to go, Houston brass should help accommodate that move with no hard feelings.
Trying to force him to play will only create terrible chemistry and riffs within the team, making the rookie coach’s job almost impossible. Harden already showed up late to camp and out of shape after being seen throwing dollars at a strip joint with no mask. The NBA is currently investigating and it could affect his status for Houston’s opening game.
BREAKING NBA: The NBA is reviewing video of James Harden at a strip club, and if it's determined to be recent he may be in danger of missing the Rockets' season opener on Wednesday. Fantasy Analysis Here: https://t.co/eI9gVexFo8
— Fantasy Alarm (@FantasyAlarm) December 23, 2020
Is Harden’s Houston Ship Sinking?
Reports are that the relationship between Harden and Houston continues to deteriorate quickly, similar to Kawhi in San Antonio and Anthony Davis with the Pelicans before he forced a trade to the Lakers.
Obviously, the Rockets are in no rush to trade their franchise cornerstone unless a formidable package materializes and that’s no easy task. Harden has already broken his promise to remain professional until the Rockets found a new home for him. They aren’t moving fast enough for his tastes and now we have a cat and mouse game that is causing tension.
According to reports, the one-time MVP had verbal arguments with teammates during practices on Sunday and Monday, one of which elevated past words when he threw a ball at rookie Jae’Sean Tate after a heated exchange, per The Athletic’s Shams Charania.
He didn’t quite go Jimmy Butler in Minnesota. And the ball never hit Tate, but we should expect more uncharacteristic shenanigans like this from Harden as he tries to force his way out of Houston and onto a contender. Harden to the Nets would be perfect because it gives the East a legitimate contender to dethrone the Lakers. Although, certain Lakers fans will, of course, champion against it.
.@ShannonSharpe on KD & Kyrie's new-look Nets debut:
"The Nets are very impressive and are very scary. The East will have their hands full. I liked what I saw, KD and Kyrie were not in each other's way. For me, they don't need Harden, they really don't." pic.twitter.com/OQvqWZV6YI
— UNDISPUTED (@undisputed) December 23, 2020
This situation is only going to get worse and it might just be better to cut ties now, rather than put Stephen Silas in a chaotic situation where his best player isn’t all in. Keeping Harden is a no-win situation for the Rockets. The franchise must move on with players who are committed to a new era.