At one point it seemed as James Harden being traded to the Brooklyn Nets was all but a done deal. The Nets had the talented trade pieces, the draft picks, and most importantly Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. The trade never materialized which may be a blessing in disguise for the Brooklyn Nets.
James Harden Can Do Whatever He Wants
“Whatever James wants,” is how the Houston Rockets’ culture was summed up by a former Rockets staffer according to ESPN’s Tim MacMahon. On Wednesday, MacMahon released a report showing just how tight of a stranglehold The Beard has on the Rockets organization. Harden is one of the most decorated players in the NBA. He is a former NBA MVP and has been the runner-up three times, scoring champion three times and an all-star eight times. Despite all of these accolades, it is hard to ignore that he has notoriously come up short in the playoffs and this report raises the question is James Harden worth the price of admission?
Harden Has Put Pressure on Rockets’ Front Office
“Harden has pushed the Rockets to upgrade every offseason, saying he would want to be traded if they couldn’t contend,” sources told MacMahon. Harden and the Rockets have had some of the most head-scratching playoff blunders in recent memory. Missing 27 straight threes against the Warriors in game seven, Curry exploding for 33 in the second half to eliminate the Rockets after KD went down, losing to the Spurs by 39 at home with no Kawhi and the list goes on.
While it is the job of the Rockets’ front office to put the pieces around Harden to compete for chips, threatening them with a trade request is not ideal behavior from your franchise player. Harden also has to take accountability for his part in the Rocket’s failures. He shot 2-11 with six turnovers in the elimination loss vs the Spurs and 12-29 with five turnovers in the game seven loss against the Warriors. Both of these losses were AT HOME.
Harden’s Behavior Upset His Teammates
“Rockets considered it good business to do what Harden wanted to keep a historically elite player happy,” writes MacMahon. This included Harden requesting an off day and chartering a private jet to party in Las Vegas or another city if Houston had two or three days off between games. “If they have multiple days off, everybody knows James is going to fly somewhere else and party,” a member of last season’s coaching staff said. “But he’s going to come back and have a 50-point triple-double, so they’re okay with it.”
“Just James being James,” are how some current staffers describe Harden’s behavior but not everyone felt the same way, specifically Harden’s former teammates Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook.
“One of Paul’s biggest beefs, sources said, was that Harden opted not to participate in the Rockets’ offense when the ball wasn’t in his hands,” writes MacMahon.
“Sometimes barely stepping over half court while spectating when Paul had the ball.” Kyrie and Durant, both ball-dominant players have seemed to mesh well in the one preseason game they played together. Trading for Harden would mean disrupting Kyrie and KD’s already established chemistry.
According to MacMahon after losing to Steph and the Warriors in 2019, Harden demanded that the Rockets got a deal done to bring Russell Westbrook to Houston or he would request a trade. The Rockets got a deal done but it cost them Chris Paul, 2024 and 2026 first-round picks, and swap rights in 2021 and 2025.
Houston’s lax culture was unfamiliar to Westbrook and it rubbed him the wrong way. “Nothing ever starts on time,” a former Rockets staffer said. “The plane is always late. The bus is never on time. … It’s just an organized AAU team.” MacMahon writes that one time in the Orlando Bubble, Harden waited to get his daily COVID-19 testing until just before the Rockets’ film session was scheduled to start. When he wasn’t on time, Westbrook barked, “Start the film! Start without him!”
Harden Is Committed To The Rockets
Harden spoke with the media for the first time yesterday and insisted he is fully committed to the Rockets organization. “Right now, I’m focused on being here,” he said. Harden was also asked about his uhh … activities in Atlanta and Las Vegas during the start of Rockets training camp, where he was seen partying with rap star Lil’ Baby. Harden insists it was strictly for business. “I was training for the start of the NBA season,” Harden said. When asked why in Atlanta and Vegas as opposed to Houston, Harden said he was with his personal trainers.
James Harden on what he was doing in Atlanta in Vegas during training camp:
"I was just training."
"The start of the NBA season."
Why in Atlanta and Vegas instead of Houston?
"My personal trainers."
— Salman Ali (@SalmanAliNBA) December 16, 2020
Should Nets Still Want Harden?
The Brooklyn Nets already have one of the deepest rosters in the NBA heading into the season opener on Sunday. If they do want to acquire the former MVP it will cost them a haul. But does Harden’s talent outweigh the alleged baggage that he comes with?
If Harden ever lands in Brooklyn remains to be seen, but according to a Rockets staffer because of the power he is used to holding within the organization, a trade seems to be imminent.”Yeah, he’s going to act up, he’s never heard no before,” the staffer said. “The Rockets turned the organization over to James, and now they have to live with the fallout.”