After another season wasted in a disappointing second-round exit, James Harden began to take an assessment of his future with the Houston Rockets.
Harden believed that if he was ever going to win a title, he’d have to leave Houston.
Price Of Sacrifice
On Wednesday, that wish was finally granted when the Brooklyn Nets acquired the former MVP, three-time scoring champion and eight-time all-star in a four-team blockbuster trade.
Now, with a clean slate and a pairing with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, we will see if Harden is really about that life.
Not the life of extravagant and decadent trappings that’s a part of the game. Harden has proven that he’s all about that, and proven that prolifically but that’s not what I’m talking about here.
The ‘life’ in question is that of doing what it takes to become a champion. It doesn’t matter what the talent looks like on paper because winning a ‘chip is hard. Some teams made it look easier than others (ie Warriors, ‘Heattles’), but it doesn’t change how hard the journey is.
It is why they spray each other with champagne and smoke cigars afterward, and party until daybreak at the restaurant they’ve rented out after winning.
It is also why, depending on the circumstances around the win, that some players don’t even want to look at the trophy or have anything else to do with the game for a month or so.
That ‘ship life comes with not only focus, determination and grit, it also comes with sacrifice.
Harden was willing to sacrifice money — rejecting an extension from the Rockets that would’ve netted him $50 million per year.
This sacrifice was the easy part.
The real sacrifice is when Harden, Durant, and Irving are all on the court together. All three of these players are ball-dominant, and will have to figure out how to mesh their talents and co-exist.
They will figure it out but it’ll take time because it’s difficult to expedite on-court chemistry.
The fun in this team is not only in the ridiculous scoring and highlights that they will put up, but also in how they will fit into their roles.
While Durant is ball-dominant, he’s proven that he’s also versatile enough to play off the ball. The challenge is meshing the playing styles of Harden and Irving.
Both are heavy players with a penchant for over dribbling, the challenge is in the compromise.
Triple Double Out The Gate
Harden showed his willingness and ability to facilitate in his first game with the Nets, scoring 32 points but adding 14 assists and 12 rebounds. But that’s without Kyrie there.
That compromise for Harden may be less touching, and that’s okay. He doesn’t have to do too much offensively with Durant and Irving there, but he’s a walking bucket so he will surely get his.
I’m willing to bet Harden will gladly sacrifice his touches for a championship. After all, he was the third option before, during his only trip to the NBA Finals with OKC back in the day.
The circumstances are obviously different but the vibe is the same. He wouldn’t have to carry the burden of high volume shooting and scoring night after night. He could impact the game by facilitating and even impact it more defensively.
In OKC, Harden was free to play the passing lanes and roam the perimeter-averaging 1.0 steals per game.
For Harden, the Nets gave up depth and a gang of picks in hopes of bringing them closer to a title. For a title, what is Harden willing to give up?
We will soon find out.