Things didn’t end well for James Harden in Houston.
The nine-time All-Star did some things off the court that rubbed many people around the Rockets the wrong way. Said some things in that vain, too. All of that worked together to bring about a boiling point, and, soon enough, Harden was dealt in a massive four-team trade to the Brooklyn Nets on January 14.
And now Harden is bracing for his return to Houston.
The Rockets host the Nets on Wednesday in Harden’s highly anticipated return to the Toyota Center, his first time playing against his former team since the trade.
Harden on His Return to Houston
Before he joined the Rockets in October 2012, Harden had a Sixth Man of the Year Award on his resume for his performance with the Oklahoma City Thunder. But it wasn’t until he arrived in Houston that he ascended to superstardom.
Harden spent eight full seasons with the Rockets, a span during which he averaged 29.4 points, 7.8 assists and 6.1 rebounds and won the 2017-18 MVP.
“I’m excited to just go back to Houston where I had an unbelievable career there and play in front of those fans,” Harden said on Monday about his return to Houston, per Brian Lewis of the New York Post. “I’m excited.”
— Brian Lewis (@NYPost_Lewis) March 2, 2021
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How Will Be Harden Received in His Return to Houston?
After eight-plus years doing a lot for the Rockets and the larger Houston community, Harden hopes the fans receive him warmly on Wednesday.
“We came up short of a championship,” Harden said, per Alex Schiffer of The Athletic. “Hopefully those fans appreciated everything I did on the court and off the court and what I continue to do off the court. I feel like I’m still apart of the struggles they go through.”
On how he'll be received in Houston, Harden says "We came up short of a championship. Hopefully those fans appreciated everything I did on the court and off the court and what I continue to do off the court. I feel like I'm still apart of the struggles they go through."
— Alex Schiffer (@Alex__Schiffer) March 2, 2021
On the court, the Rockets have dipped significantly since Harden’s departure with an 8-16 record over that span, which includes their current 12-game losing streak. Off the court, the city of Houston was devasted by a severe winter storm that caused power outages and food shortages around the city in February.
Harden donated 3,000 meals to people in Houston affected by the storm. Per ESPN’s Malika Andrews, Harden said he was on the phone “every day trying to impact the city because they’ve shown me so much love and respect in the time that I was there.”
James Harden, who donated 3,000 meals to people in Houston affected by severe weather related power-outages and food shortages, says he has been on the phone "every day trying to impact the city because they've shown me so much love and respect in the time that I was there."
— Malika Andrews (@malika_andrews) February 22, 2021
Harden’s Messy Breakup With Rockets
There was less love between Harden and the Rockets themselves as his time in Houston reached a breaking point.
Harden, who had requested a trade in the offseason, was absent for the beginning of training camp with the Rockets while attending events in Atlanta and Las Vegas. Then, a couple of days before being dealt to the Nets, he had this to say after a blowout loss to the Los Angeles Lakers:
“We’re not even close, honestly, to that team (the Lakers) — obviously the defending champions — and all the other elite teams out there. You can tell the difference in these last two games.
“We’re just not good enough. Obviously chemistry, talent-wise, just… everything. It was clear. They’re a veteran team, a championship team, one of the best teams that we have in this league.
“I love this city. I’ve literally done everything I can. This situation is crazy. It’s something that — I don’t think it can be fixed.”
James Harden: We're not even close, honestly, to that team, the obviously the defending champions, and to all the other elite teams out there. I mean, you can tell the difference these last two games." pic.twitter.com/l6WDfBrtNS
— Adam Spolane (@AdamSpolane) January 13, 2021
Harden later expressed regret over how the situation unfolded to ESPN’s Rachel Nichols in an interview in late February.
“The drama, the extra whatever you want to call it, the negativity, for me I don’t really like negative energy, it’s draining,” Harden said. “I don’t like how it necessarily happened, I feel like it could’ve happened a lot smoother, easier, but it is what it is.”