Just when you thought things couldn’t get any more awkward between the Rockets and James Harden … Harden finally spoke. And it did not go very well.
On Wednesday, a day after making his debut for the season, a 12-point, four-assist attempt overshadowed by being roasted on social media for a screen shot that made him seem overweight, Harden addressed for the first time since ending a cutscene to reporters. short Houston holdout.
He was asked about his frequently reported request to be traded.
“Right now I’m just focused on being here,” Harden said.
Reporters asked about the message he was trying to send by skipping the Rockets camp start to spend time in Atlanta in Las Vegas.
“I was just exercising,” said Harden.
In front of?
“The start of the NBA season.”
How, urged ESPN’s Tim McMahon, is it better to train in Atlanta and Vegas than with the Houston team?
“Only [with] my personal trainers. “
And what about Rafael Stone, the Rockets freshman GM? Does Harden believe that after years of playing for Daryl Morey, Stone can put together a winner?
Harden said, “We haven’t had a conversation.”
Understanding Harden’s motives for requesting a transaction is not complicated. It’s not about the change in the coaching staff or the turmoil in the front office. It’s not about trading Russell Westbrook or any concerns about his new defense partner, John Wall. It’s the Rockets can’t win, and Harden knows it. So he wants to go somewhere he can.
Just look at the teams that were reportedly on Harden’s wish list. He doesn’t want to be traded to Sacramento. He wants to go to Miami, the defending champions of the Eastern Conference. He’s not pushing for a deal with Chicago. He’s fishing to reunite with Morey in Philadelphia, where a Joel Embiid partnership awaits.
Harden is not stupid. Even if John Wall regains his All-Star form, even if DeMarcus Cousins returns from two injured seasons, even if Christian Wood is the kind of goal scorer he showed in Detroit, the Rockets are probably nothing better than a midfielder. -of-the-pack playoff team, a cut behind the Lakers, Clippers and Nuggets, battling it out with Utah, Dallas, Portland and Phoenix for playoff positioning. In a particularly brutal conference, Houston is more likely to miss the playoffs than to hit a deep playoff run.
It’s a situation that Harden, at 31, wants nothing to do with.
Harden is, of course, responsible for the fate of the Rockets. An ESPN report this week detailed details of something long known in NBA circles: Houston has taken care of Harden. Harden doesn’t get along with Chris Paul? Paul is gone. Russell Westbrook wants to harden? The Rockets will pay way too much for him by making a few first-round choices – along with two years of trading rights – to get Westbrook out of Oklahoma City. The Westbrook partnership is buzzing after one season? He’s gone with Wall to replace him.
Will Houston cater to Harden again? A trade is inevitable at this point, although what matters is how the Rockets approach it. Hardening has little influence on this. He has two more guaranteed years on his contract and should walk away from $ 47 million by 2022 to not be three. He can make things uncomfortable, and he already has, drifting late into training camp, requiring a week of negative COVID-19 tests before he could rejoin the team in practice. He has taken over authority from Stephen Silas, Houston’s rookie head coach, as he puts teammates in the impossible position of having to speak on his behalf.
‘I’m not trying to ask him about it [the trade talk] because that’s his personal business, ”Wall said. “All I’m concerned about is what we can do to make this Rockets team the best we can be while everyone is here and move on.”
Still – Houston has to tune it. Everything. A hardening is not a big moment for the franchise. It’s a huge one. What the Rockets get in return for Harden will determine the future of the franchise. And the best offers can last for months. The Nets were able to put together a nice package with Caris LeVert and Spencer Dinwiddie as headliner. But Giannis Antetokounmpo’s decision to sign a long-term deal with Milwaukee could put the Heat – and Tyler Herro – into play. And if Philadelphia struggles to start the season, Morey, who now heads the Sixers’ front office, can put Ben Simmons on the table.
The next few months can be ugly. Harden admits to being behind. “I’m in catch-up mode,” said Harden. And while Wall and Cousins looked edgy, it takes a lot to ask two players two years away from any meaningful gaming action to get off the ground. The Rockets may struggle to start the season.
“There is [been] lots of changes, ”said Harden. “Obviously, the whole coaching staff, part of the front office, has a lot of players. This is where we are. Trainer [Silas] did an incredible job of communicating with the guys and bringing the structure and getting things going. … I can now only focus on. For me, the best James Harden keeps me in shape. “
Indeed. The Rockets know the Harden Era is over. How it will end is the only thing that is uncertain. As Harden gets himself back into shape and plays as the three-time-scoring champion, teams will beat Houston’s doors to acquire him. If he struggles and is a regular distraction, his value will shrink. And for what it’s worth, Harden says he wants to avoid distractions.
“Nothing has been said about it since I got here,” Harden said. “Everyone in the locker room, the coaching staff, was focused on preparing for the season. That’s all that matters. ”