James Harden finally got what he wanted. Within a day after publicly declaring he was in a “situation… that I don’t think can be fixed,” he wound up being shipped to the Nets as part of a four-franchise deal involving a stunning 21 assets. It was what he wanted, of course, and he made his sentiments felt way back in a tumultuous offseason that saw erstwhile backcourt partner Russell Westbrook leave in frustration. Since then, he had been on a scorched-earth offensive; he partied instead of practiced, breached health and safety protocols, showed up thoroughly out of shape, sulked his way to poor performances, and alienated teammates with his polarizing words and actions.
Indeed, the Rockets had no choice but to send Harden packing, pronto. His rant the other day, after a second straight blowout against the powerhouse Lakers, proved to be the last straw. Prior to things coming to a head, general manager Rafael Stone pledged to play the waiting game, keeping lines with league counterparts open while waiting for a fair trade. As things turned out, however, he proved so desperate to leave as to keep any semblance of respect and respectability in and to the process. Ask four-time All-Star DeMarcus Cousins, who knows what recalcitrance looks like from personal experience, and who thus found cause to rip him to shreds in reaction.
And so Harden will now go through the remainder of the 2020-21 season with the Nets, who, in giving up their future for him, evidently did not learn from their Kevin Garnett-Paul Pierce experience. The more optimistic view holds that, unlike the aforementioned Celtics greats, he’s in his prime and, therefore, in far better position to justify the ransom paid for him. Only time will tell; while the sight of three otherworldly scorers sharing the court together does elicit visions of shotmaking wizardry, there’s only one ball and, aside from them, two other players sharing it that cannot simply be throw-ins.
In any case, the payoff deals a significant blow to Harden’s reputation with the Rockets, not to mention the National Basketball Association. The numbers don’t lie; his contributions since he arrived in 2012 had been nothing short of historic. At the same time, he leaves behind a legacy of failed relationships and disappearing acts under pressure. “I love this city,” he said of Houston in the midst of his rants the other day. “I literally have done everything that I can.” And he’s right. He has done everything, including throwing the proverbial kitchen sink back to where he once belonged.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.