Society loves winners. Whether fair or foul, winning a championship can change public and media perception significantly more than individual awards. More importantly, winning a championship erases past failures and completely reshapes a career narrative. For James Harden, winning a title is the answer to all of his problems.
Harden wants out of Houston. The Rockets’ superstar first requested a trade to the Brooklyn Nets. Now, his preferred destinations include Milwaukee, Philadelphia, and Miami according to Shams Charania. It’s no coincidence that all four of these teams are at the top of the Eastern Conference. Harden’s ready to team up with a new superstar. “The Beard” wants his ring.
Houston came close to making the Finals in both 2018 and 2019, but it appears that’s as close as they’ll ever get in the Harden era. The championship window closed in the blink of an eye. Mike D’Antoni, Daryl Morey, and Russell Westbrook are all gone. The writing is on the wall for Harden. If he wants to win a championship, he will most likely need to leave Houston to do it.
Superstars forcing themselves out of a situation is not uncommon. From legends like Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to current players like Kyrie Irving and Kawhi Leonard, the tale of the unhappy superstar is as old as time. Most recently, Anthony Davis requested a trade from the New Orleans Pelicans and cited the Los Angeles Lakers as his preferred team. This is one of the rare occurrences where the preferred destination had the best package of players and picks to offer so the Pelicans and Lakers made the deal.
The player empowerment era is a double-edged sword. Players should have more freedom to team up in the NBA. It becomes a problem when superstars ask to be traded with two to 3 years left on huge contracts. While I’m predominantly on the side of players, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to side with Harden.
If Harden wants out, then that’s his decision. However, his actions over the past few weeks are indefensible. While his teammates were preparing for training camp, Harden went on a tour around the country, gifting Lil Baby with expensive gifts in Atlanta and partying in Las Vegas “till the break of dawn, yo.” In a normal year, that’s behavior is acceptable, but when it’s a pandemic and these actions go against league protocols, it’s inexcusable.
Harden is putting first-year coach Stephen Silas in a terrible predicament, where Silas will have to answer questions about Harden wanting out for as long as he’s a member of the Rockets. This relationship can still blossom now that Harden reported to camp, but it’s off to a rocky start.
Harden gets unfairly criticized by certain members of the media who only judge his bad moments instead of respecting his greatness. In my opinion, Harden is one of the most gifted and prolific offensive threats in NBA history. Many will point out a blown defensive assignment from an irrelevant regular season game before ever mentioning that Harden has averaged over 25 points per game ever year since 2012 and including 30 points per game the past three seasons. His playoff shortcomings can be open to criticism, but to not acknowledge Harden as one of the three best guards in the league is a crime.
Despite all of this negative attention, Harden has the secret to changing the narrative and that’s winning. Remember when Jimmy Butler went scorched earth and burned every bridge in Minnesota on his way out the door? That’s all been erased from memory after his unforgettable run in the NBA Bubble with the Miami Heat. Remember when the media destroyed Tiger Woods for his off-the-course endeavors and his lack of a major for over 10 years? That all changed with his win at the Masters in 2019.
To quote Tiger, “Winning takes care of everything.” Despite the negative press around his nightclub tour and tumultuous relationship with the Rockets, if James Harden wins a championship in the foreseeable future, this will all be an afterthought.
What should the Rockets do with James Harden? Leave your comments below or tweet us, @unafraidshow.