Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers was a man of few words during James Harden’s introductory press conference on Tuesday afternoon. However, one sentence stole the show: “We want the opportunity to be the winner and we believe this trade does that.”
Rivers answered only one more question and, really, didn’t even need to say that much. Harden’s presence signals the Sixers are all-in on a championship – not next year; not in five years; right now, in 2022. They expect to be the “last team standing” in June as the confetti falls down on MVP Joel Embiid and his new superstar best friend.
“Hell yeah,” Harden said when asked about winning a title in 2022. When a reporter asked him to clarify his comment, the 2018 MVP repeated the “hell yeah” loud enough for the cameras in the back to hear. Harden is still rehabbing from a left hamstring injury but expects to make his Sixers’ debut after the All-Star break. That’s when the title run officially begins.
“There’s a lot that goes into it, but I think just being around the guys here, they have the right mindset,” Harden said. “Obviously, with what’s coming from the coaching staff, after the break it’s go time. As much as I can incorporate and figure things out fast and move things along, the better it’ll be. But it shouldn’t take long at all, I’m pretty much a fit anywhere.”
As far as the injury goes, Harden hasn’t experienced any setbacks. He was putting weight on it and moving around fine at Tuesday’s practice. The decision to sit out was a collaborative one between him and the Sixers’ medical staff. Harden continues to do strengthening exercises while keeping his cardio up.
“Hamstring feels really good, just doing a lot strengthening work right now,” Harden said. “As far as me, I have to make sure I’m great, I’m healthy, I’m in a place where I can be the best James Harden I can be on the court.”
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Philadelphia Always Harden’s First Choice
Some have pointed the finger at Harden for being a bad teammate as he joins his third organization in fourteen months. The track record would indicate he’s a guy who flees at the first fork in the road, unwilling to tolerate losing if it’s not on his terms. It’s a common misconception that Harden sought to clear up.
“I mean, it wasn’t planned like this,” Harden said. “Fourteen months ago, I didn’t see myself on three different teams, but we are where we are here today and I’m happy. Last year, a lot of ups and downs, a lot of stress, but that’s all in the past, whatever. I’m excited, I’m healthy, and it’s the opportunity of a lifetime.”
Harden went on to say that Philly was always his first choice dating back to last year’s trade deadline. The Sixers were working on deal to pry him away from Houston, but it fell apart at the 25th hour. Instead, Harden was traded to Brooklyn and the rest is history.
“Originally, when I was going through everything I was going through in Houston, Philly was my first choice,” Harden said. “It just didn’t happen. So, details, I don’t really want to get into the Brooklyn situation … I just knew for a very long time this was a perfect fit.”
Joining Forces with Embiid, Mentoring Maxey
It’s unclear how Rivers is going to shuffle the starting five upon Harden’s arrival. He could play him at the point in a backcourt featuring Harden and Matisse Thybulle. Or Tyrese Maxey stays at the one with Harden sliding into the shooting guard spot. Either way, Harden is going to be the primary ball-handler and embrace whatever role he’s given.
“They have something great already going on here,” Harden said. “I’m just here to contribute and I know I can do that very well. So, on the the court when you got high-level skill guys that know the game, and all they want to do is win, we’ll figure it out.”
One of those “high-level skill guys” is Embiid, the consensus MVP through 56 games. The 7-footer was a big reason why Harden pushed for the trade to Philly. Those two players, combined with Tobias Harris’ 18.9 points per game, are going to be a nightmare for every team in the Eastern Conference.
“I think we complement each other,” Harden said of Embiid. “Obviously the whole world knows how great Joel has been playing. Not just scoring the basketball, the rebounding – he had a triple-double in his last game – his presence alone is unbelievable. I feel like I’m the same way was as far as making my teammates better, doing different things that impact the game at the highest level.”