When the last NBA season ended, one thing was evident, James Harden wanted out of the team he has been the center of for the past eight years. It was not a matter of if but when Harden would leave. He returned for the season massively overweight and has seemingly not attempted to shed the weight. He has looked and sounded dejected in post-game interviews and got himself fined after footage appeared of him in a club not wearing a mask, which violated the league’s COVID-19 protocols. After a 17-point defeat to the Lakers, Harden commented that his teammates were not good enough and nowhere close to the other teams. A day later, Harden was traded to the Brooklyn Nets in a blockbuster multi-team deal.
James Harden’s tenure with the Rockets has included two owners, four head coaches, and several General Managers who quickly understood that “What James wants James Gets”. Harden used heavy-handed threats that he would want to be traded almost every off-season, thus forcing the team to make changes to his liking. Harden was taking shots on and off the court, as he flexed his muscles to push for the firing of head coach Kevin McHale and the forcing out of co-stars Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, and Russel Westbrook, whom the team brought in to assist him. To make the latter deal happen, Houston had to sacrifice Paul, 2024, and 2026 first-round picks, and swap rights in 2021 and 2025. A year later, the Rockets had to trade Westbrook to the Washington Wizards for John Wall (fresh off a two-year injury layoff) and a protected future first-round pick, a spectacular failure for the Rockets. A position the Rockets found themselves in because of Harden threatening the team to get the deal done for his friend and teammate.
Harden’s ball dominance has caused a problem with several teammates, the most high profile of those being Chris Paul. Russel Westbrook also complained about not being able to play his game shortly after joining the Rockets. Harden would regularly not go over the half-court when the offensive play did not include him making the final shot. The Rockets management kept trading pieces to make the bearded superstar happy, but it ultimately culminated in him wanting to leave a team that is not currently in a place to challenge for the NBA title. With Harden having now departed, the Rockets now have a team in limbo, a precarious predicament of their own making.
Aside from his backroom dealings, the Rockets organization also descended into turning a blind eye to his shenanigans while blatantly facilitating others. The team stayed over in cities, so Harden could get his clubbing and partying fix and hanging out with his rapper friends. Tardiness was rampant within the organization, the team bus and team jet very rarely took off according to schedule, and the delays were usually because of Harden. The Harden treatment rubbed stars, Paul and Westbrook, the wrong way as they were taken aback by the lack of discipline. The other players were not high enough on the priority chain to effect any real change, which partly explains why relations fizzled.
It is not unusual for teams to build around their best player and let us not forget that the Rockets missed the playoffs each of the three seasons before Harden’s arrival and since then have not missed the playoffs once, the only team with that record. However, his acrimonious exit and the time it will take for the franchise to rebuild and compete will present a stark reminder for other teams, not to empower players to the extent that their power supersedes the entire organization’s leadership. “You can’t get mad at your kid if you let him eat candy every night and then suddenly one night you don’t and they throw a tantrum,” an ex-Houston assistant commented on Harden. The Rockets will be hoping Oladipo, John Wall, and DeMarcus Cousins can click fast as they begin to pick up the pieces from the mess they created. It will be interesting to see how the Nets handle this privileged star and how he coexists with Irving and Durant.
Other Hardwood Updates
The defending champions Los Angeles Lakers last Wednesday night defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder 128-99 to go 7-0 on the road which represents the best road start in franchise history since the 1985-86 season. New additions Montrezl Harrel and Dennis Schroeder have ably eased the losses of big man Dwight Howard and Rajon Rondo with the team balancing defence and attack as they aim to defend their title this season.
To say LaMelo Ball is balling would be an understatement, the youngest from the Big Baller clan has gotten off to a good start with the Hornets. Melo currently leads Charlotte in rebounding and player efficiency rating (19.5) ranking right behind starter Devonte’ Graham (6.5) in assists. LaMelo currently leads the KIA Rookie of the year standings and recently became the first rookie guard in team history to haul in at least 10 rebounds in three consecutive games. LaMelo’s 14 rebounds are the most by a Hornets rookie since Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had 14 on April 5, 2013. Ball also recently became the youngest player in NBA history to post a triple-double (22 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists against the Atlanta Hawks after narrowly missing the achievement by 1 assist in the previous game against his brother Lonzo’s New Orleans Pelicans.
The NBA is struggling to adjust to life with COVID- 19 outside of the bubble that was created to safely end the last NBA season. With the number of positive tests increasing, issues with contact tracing, protocol violations, and a host of games canceled, the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association announced new rules last Tuesday. For at least the next two weeks, all players and team staff are mandated to remain at home when in their home markets and are restricted from leaving their hotels when on the road unless they have practice or are about to play their games. Additionally, pregame meetings in locker rooms are limited to no longer than 10 minutes with all players and staff in attendance mandated to wear their masks. Players are also being encouraged to lessen court interactions to elbow bumps and lengthy socialization on the court is prohibited. Players subbed out of the game can sit without their masks in designated cool-out chairs and players on the team bench are mandated to wear their masks unless they are about to check into the game.
Trouble is seemingly brewing in Brooklyn amid all the euphoria and shock of acquiring Harden, it is clear all is not well in the big apple. Kyrie Irving has sat out the last four games with no real explanation given. Rumours are also swirling that communication between Kyrie, the coaching staff, and co-star Kevin Durant is non-existent. Images have also surfaced with Kyrie partying without a mask, raising further questions as to the reasons the All-star is not suiting up for the Nets. It is also rumoured that Kyrie may not play again this season; one hopes the player can get his head right so that fans can be treated to the Nets big three all on the court at once.