James Harden Trying to Lead

Now we know why James Harden pulled out of the Rio Olympics and it wasn’t because he wanted to get healthy for next season and it wasn’t for the same reason Bradley Beal pulled out, to concentrate and work on his game, and it wasn’t fears of the Zika Virus. Harden pulled out because he wants to go full throttle on bringing Kevin Durant to Houston. Harden wants to do what he thinks a leader does, sacrifice something for himself so the team can benefit.

Personal sacrifice is a character trait. It distinguishes the mature from the immature, the great from the so-so. But that sacrifice has to be reasonable, otherwise it is imaginary thinking. It is nothing more than a dream.

No one would knowingly put themselves in front of a moving car just to test a theory that speed can debilitate the human body. In essence, that is what Harden is doing by this active state of denial where he thinks his relationship with Durant will affect a business decision. The speeding car is Kevin Durant wanting to win a title in 2017. The person getting crushed is James Harden.

Kevin Durant is looking for a ready made team that is one player away from a title, not a team in flux. The Rockets have too many holes to fill for Durant to have any level of interest. The Rockets have to figure out what they want to do at center; small ball or traditional big? They don’t have a power forward skilled or dominant enough to compete for a title. They don’t have a point guard which is Harden’s fault. He won’t let a point guard be a point guard. Their bench was anemic in 2015-16, one of the worst shooting and rebounding benches in the league. So exactly what is Harden selling to Durant when he couldn’t make it work with Dwight Howard? Mike D’Antoni?

D’Antoni’s system, to be effective, needs a quick point guard who dribbles to create space and freely gives up the ball and who can score ala Steve Nash and Jeremy Lin. Harden may get his 7 assists a night but he doesn’t freely give up the ball, he emasculates point guards who want to run the system and he is an iso scorer. Additionally, D’Antoni’s defenses have all been apoplectic and with Harden as your best player, what is going to change? The best defender on a D’Antoni team has to be the best player. James Harden just won the MVP award for Shaqtin-A-Fool. Translation: he’s the worst defender in the NBA, so bad as being comical and a joke. He doesn’t even try.

The Rockets have money to spend so it’s not an issue of affording Durant but rather why would Durant want to play on one of the worst defenses in the league and with Harden, who is not better than Russell Westbrook.

The Thunder are a better team than the Rockets. They have a better GM in Scott Presti who isn’t always looking for the home run but understands a winning culture is about skilled role players who feel legitimized by the stars. The Thunder have front court help because they spun the Harden trade into a draft pick, Steven Adams. The Thunder have a point guard, a top-5 player in Westbrook. They just traded for a 16 point per game shooting guard. They have a decent bench. What exactly is James Harden selling? Friendship?

It’s been a tough year for Harden but every star player goes through these kinds of seasons. Everything was lumped on his shoulders. Dwight will always be Dwight. All you have to do is go through the mental rolodex and remember other times of Howard complaining or checking out or with that stupid expression on his face.

But Harden, in 2014-15, won the Players MVP, was neck and neck with Steph as best player that year and then he turned around and had a garbage year despite the stats and All-Star nod.

Harden should have gone to Rio. It’s telling that Durant’s first two free agent interviews are with the front runners, the Spurs and Thunder, two complete teams, two teams with their rosters in tact. All they need is Kevin  Durant to lead them.

All the Rockets need is…where to start?

Leadership is lacking. Harden as a leader is more desire than nuts and bolts execution. Trying to convince his friend to save him is very James Harden like. If he really wanted to display his leadership acumen, if he wanted to step up his leadership game, then he would commit to defense all summer long. But Harden doesn’t even think he is a bad defender. He thinks it’s all so unfair, all those Vines and Youtube videos. He looks at himself as a victim.

Let me clue Harden in. Leadership is not about gestures. It’s about wanting others to follow you because they trust you. They believe in you. It’s about being accountable when you have a miserable season. It’s about making the team better by any means necessary. It’s not about making gestures that ring false and hollow.

Kevin Durant is not coming to the Rockets in 2016-17. Thinking he is just cost Harden a gold medal.


photo via llananba