What James Harden is doing right now in the NBA has to be some other form of performance art.
“We’re just not good enough — obviously, chemistry, talent-wise, just everything — and it was clear these last few games,” Harden told reporters following another lackluster performance in his team’s fourth loss in five games. He finished his blunt news conference by saying, “I love this city. I’ve literally done everything that I can. I mean, this situation, it’s crazy. It’s something that I don’t think can be fixed, so, yeah, thanks.”
Let’s unpack all of this nonsense, starting with this declaration: “I’ve literally done everything that I can.”
Listen, man, I get it. This entire season, played under the dark cloud of a raging pandemic, is a lot. But you, James Harden, cannot possibly believe you have done everything, because you literally have done not that.
I don’t know how far back you want to go, but we might as well start at the beginning of the end, when you and Chris Paul formed the backcourt of a contender. Somewhere between your Houston Rockets blowing two golden opportunities to upset the Golden State Warriors, you “basically opted not to participate in the Rockets’ offense” when you didn’t have the ball, understandably irking Paul, per ESPN’s Tim MacMahon.
You issued a “him or me” edict to Houston’s front office in June 2019, when your relationship with Paul became “unsalvageable,” according to Yahoo Sports’ Vincent Goodwill, and you pushed for the trade that returned your friend Russell Westbrook and mortgaged the franchise’s future. Only, your laissez-faire approach to aspects not revolved around you understandably irked him, too, resulting in his trade request.
You also demanded a trade after the organization built entire rosters fit for contention around you. Not only did your inability to coalesce with Paul close one window, you encouraged the Rockets to bleed their draft stash dry, only for you to repeat the same mistakes with Westbrook and close another. Take an ounce of ownership for your role in both falling short of your championship aspirations and decimating a contender.
When the Rockets did not immediately cave to your demands, largely because your track record has made it difficult for them to find equal value on the trade market, you blew off your first month of basketball work, prioritizing partying in Atlanta and Las Vegas over building chemistry with your new coach and teammates.
You are so remarkably talented that you dropped 44 points and 17 assists in your season debut, despite being visibly out of shape and unable to practice. Yet, here you are, repeating your history all over again.
Your Rockets have talent. Christian Wood has been a revelation. John Wall has looked surprisingly good for someone who hadn’t played in two years. You have won 50-plus games with guys like P.J. Tucker, Eric Gordon, Danuel House and Ben McLemore before. There is no excuse for your Rockets to be scraping the bottom of the standings. But you have no interest in trying to be “good enough” with this roster. Just admit it. Don’t undermine your teammates again, because you must know you haven’t done everything you can.
You are treating Wall the same way you did Paul and Westbrook, only worse. When the ball finds him, your hands drop to your sides, you stand motionless 30 feet from the basket, and you — a top-three MVP candidate four years running — take yourself out of the game. Of everyone who has played more than 11 minutes in the NBA this season, your average speed on court of 3.61 miles per hour is the league’s slowest.
You are slower on defense. Despite your time spent at the half-court line, you still get beat in transition. It’s been a fun game waiting to see when you might appear on the screen following a missed shot or turnover.
After consecutive losses to the Los Angeles Lakers, you said, “We’re not even close, honestly, to that team,” and maybe it’s high time you look in a mirror. Maybe — just maybe — it’s you who is not even close, honestly, to LeBron James. There is no shame in that. Only one man in history has been. And maybe that’s why you want to join another ready-made contender, but more than your jersey is going to have to change.
You were once the guy who looked at the mighty Warriors and thought to yourself, I got this. Where did he go? Again, I get it. You are one of the greatest offensive weapons in NBA history. It can be frustrating to continuously fizzle out in the playoffs after carrying such a heavy regular-season load. That doesn’t mean you stop trying. Or, at the very least, if you’re going to quit, don’t take it out on your teammates.
It is no coincidence this four-game streak without scoring more than 20 points is your longest in Houston.
As Wall said on the same night you spit on the ashes of a team you already torched, “When one through 15 guys are all on the same page and they commit and they know their role and they know what they want to get out of this, and that’s to win, it’ll all be fine. But when you have certain guys in the mix that don’t want to buy in all as one, it’s going to be hard to do anything special or anything good as a basketball team.”
Added teammate DeMarcus Cousins: “The disrespect started way before any interview.”
DeMarcus Cousins: "My interest is to play with John Wall, to be brutally honest. ...The (Harden) disrespect started way before. This isn't something that, you know, all of a sudden started last night. ...It's completely unfair to the rest of the guys in the locker room."
— Sam Amick (@sam_amick) January 13, 2021
Both sides agreed it was not wise for Harden to show up for practice on Wednesday, and the Rockets are ramping up trade discussions, with Philadelphia 76ers star Ben Simmons as their top target, according to The New York Times’ Marc Stein. Why former Houston turned Philadelphia executive Daryl Morey would want a reunion with Harden at this point is beyond me and a testament to how remarkable a player he can be. If Simmons is on the table, it’s equally puzzling why the Rockets have not pulled the trigger by now.
So, yeah, this situation is crazy. It can’t be fixed. All because you, James Harden, have reaped what you sowed. It sure seems like you will get your wish soon, the legacy you leave behind in Houston be damned.
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