James Harden Has Made It Messy

James Harden has every right to want out of Houston but where he has failed is in the strategy. He tried to set little fires everywhere, but his lack of self-awareness has made a complicated set of circumstances a hot mess. Trading for Harden, even if he made half of his gargantuan $40 million dollar paycheck, is difficult because of his style of play. It isn’t team-friendly, nor has Harden demonstrated he can thrive with another top player, or lead a group of men. He seemingly prefers to die alone on an iso hill, holding the ball too long, and disenfranchising teammates. His playoffs are usually disappointing and are far removed from his regular-season productivity. And one more Harden thing. He hasn’t been professional during the early stages of his Houston divorce. Seemingly he doesn’t realize what he has to lose.

Before he can be around the very teammates he wants to escape, Harden has to have 6 negative COVID tests in a row. I’m sure Harden thought he was being strategic by partying without wearing a mask over the weekend, assuming that would send some kind of message to those in charge of his fate. He was partly right. It sent a message, just the wrong kind like he’s okay being a super spreader and infecting innocent people. Curiously, Harden wants to throw away all the leverage he has earned.

But that wasn’t the low point. It was his mother on Instagram defending a 31-year-old man.  Harden wants a championship. So do the other 450 NBA players. He isn’t entitled to a championship. Titles are earned. If Harden wanted to win so badly, why not sign two-year deals ala LeBron James.

Very few superstars demand to be traded because when they make an obscene amount of money like Harden does trades are increasingly difficult. When you force an organization into doing something they don’t want to do, they are going to try to make the best out of a bad situation, and rarely do you get what you want.

Kobe Bryant was in a similar Harden position. Over the summer (2007) he asked to be traded and the Lakers tried to comply. The players they would have had to take back because of salary- the NBA doesn’t trade players, they trade contracts- would have put Bryant in a similar situation, a team where he is doing everything.

That isn’t the Harden problem. He likes to do everything. He just doesn’t want a rookie coach. Fair enough. He prefers someone with experience. Or is it he wasn’t consulted and his feelings are hurt?

In the Bryant situation, he came to training camp, not particularly happy but he was a professional and at the end of 2007 the Lakers made a trade- Brian Cook for Trevor Ariza. Then in February, they traded Marc Gasol and Kwame Brown to Memphis for Pau Gasol. The Lakers were in the Finals, Kobe won the MVP the year after the trade ask.

No one expects that kind of Houston fairy tale. The bloom is off the rose so to speak.  The Rockets want Ben Simmons, not Tobias Harris, so the Sixers seem to be a long shot. The Nets don’t need James Harden. Other teams that have young stars, like the Pelicans, have told the Rockets no, you can’t have Brandon Ingram. Harden on a young team would be a disaster. He sucks all the oxygen out of the ball. Development reverts to zero. So, it is Brooklyn, Philly (if the Rockets can do some big-time Daryl Morey finagling), and not much else. The Clippers have already put everyone on notice that they have mended the Paul George rift and he’s not available.

James Harden has two years left on his contract and unlike NFL players he can’t hold out. NBA contracts are funded only when a player takes the court, not when he is trying to maneuver a championship from the crib.

It leaves Harden between a rock and a hard place and with the same Harden thing dragging him down. His game doesn’t travel organizationally and Houston has all the leverage. Harden has already pouted and look what it cost the Rockets. Nothing. Harden is in training camp, If he sabotages the team, they will suspend or fine him. The Rockets are seemingly turning the page with a healthy John Wall and Boogie Cousins because James Harden, eventually, will be part of the Houston Rockets history.