The Philadephia 76ers are banking on a new Big Three to guide them to the promised land. James Harden, Joel Embiid, and Tyrese Maxey have the potential to log “scary hours” after a full offseason together. The most terrifying scenes in that horror flick should belong to Harden.
The 2018 MVP dedicated himself to getting in shape and enters training camp free of injury for the first time in two years. He’s swole. He’s confident. He’s comfortable. He’s focused solely on raising a banner. Maybe two. Maybe three. Well, let’s start with one.
“Win as many championships as I can, that’s the goal,” Harden told reporters. “Just going through what I went through these past couple years, my focus is just taking one year at a time, making sure I can feel and do everything that I do individually and then making sure my individual goals mesh with the team and our entire goals.”
Head coach Doc Rivers has decreed a “we not me” mantra for the team. Everyone has bought in, none more than Harden who declined a $47.3 million player option to free up money in free agency (a tampering investigation remains ongoing).
Does Harden have a chip on his shoulder? Yes, but he has one of those every year.
“No, I got a chip on my shoulder every year,” Harden said. “It was A combination of things but I feel like those things are ironed out. Conversations are being had where everybody is comfortable, everybody knows what to expect, and now we just got to go out there and do it.”
Dark Moments, Turbulent Times for Sixers Star
Harden was refreshingly honest during Sixers Media Day, admitting that he endured some “dark moments” last season. Those tough times were connected to a left hamstring injury that kept tightening up on him and bothered him way more than he let on. He has missed 55 games over the past two seasons, which is out of character for him — and people were ready to put him out to pasture.
“It was difficult, a lot of tough times, lot of dark moments,” Harden said. “Which I never really went through [before] because I was always healthy and playing the game of basketball but I’m in a really good space right now and I feel like I’m back to where I needed to be where I’m supposed to be.”
Harden was cooked, the talking heads said. His days of breaking ankles were over. He could barely beat Georges Niang off the dribble at practice. Harden heard all the criticism and bit his lip like a 1927 Oscar winner.
“For the most part, I’m to myself. People, media, or whoever, they talk and shoot their little jabs or shots at me, or whatever the case may be, and I never really respond because I know who I am and what I’m about,” Harden said. “But mentally it was very, very difficult for me because I’m like in love with the game of basketball. If the money wasn’t involved I’d be playing basketball and I think before the injuries everybody knows that.”
Harden’s Influences Reshaped Sixers Roster
It’s no coincidence the Sixers roster is loaded with former Harden teammates. The affable millionaire planted the seed with several guys years ago. While P.J. Tucker was the only one to actually admit it, there was a plan to reunite with Harden if an opportunity ever arose. In Philadelphia, alongside Joel Embiid, it did.
Embiid said: “All of that stuff would not be happening if it wasn’t for him [Harden]. So we gotta be thankful for what he did.”
“What did I do?” Harden innocently asked, protecting himself from the tampering police.
Harden and Tucker — thanks in large part to Daryl Morey, their former GM in Houston — saw the Sixers add tough-minded veterans like Danuel House, Montrezl Harrell, and De’Anthony Melton. Everyone descended upon Philly with one goal and it doesn’t even need to be talked about anymore. When a reporter asked Harden if it would be a disappointment if the Sixers didn’t at least advance to the NBA Finals, he refused to answer the question.
“We’re not going to answer the first question,” Harden said. “Because I all think we know what we’re trying to do and the goal for this year. I think for sure the entire city knows.”