James Harden has just strong-armed his way out of his second team in two years. What’s weird is that he was in two completely different situations.
In Houston, Harden would’ve been the lone superstar player on a team that was headed towards a rebuild. He dealt with this by skipping training camp to go to strip clubs in Vegas and Atlanta and by putting on an early winter coat of fat. This forced Houston to trade him to Brooklyn for players I can’t remember and neither can you.
Barely a year later with the Nets, he wanted out again. He was on a team with two other superstar players that was struggling for sure, having lost 10 straight, but still one of the favorites to win the title. One of the most prolific scorers in NBA history scored 4 points in 37 minutes against the Kings and then sat out the next few games with a hamstring injury that only the 76ers’ athletic trainers will be able to mend.
This begs the question: What does he want? His past two basketball situations couldn’t have been more different and yet he wasn’t happy in either. Is there any reason to think that he won’t either leave Philadelphia in free agency or request a trade next year?
Harden didn’t want to carry Houston to a first round playoff exit and he didn’t want to be part of a Big Three that should’ve easily won a title. At this point, no one knows for certain exactly why Harden wanted out of Brooklyn. Maybe he was tired of Kyrie describing to him the ice wall that’s at the edge of the flat Earth, in which case, fair. If he was worried about Kyrie only being a part time player affecting their title chances, he should know that he and Kevin Durant on the same team are plenty. If you have Harden and Durant on any team, they’re instantly the favorites to win the title.
In Houston he couldn’t get along with Dwight Howard, so the front office got rid of him and brought in Chris Paul. Harden didn’t get along with the apparently washed Paul, someone who years later has helped bring Phoenix back from a laughing stock to the West’s frontrunner, so Paul was traded for Russel Westbrook. Westbrook didn’t work, so he got traded for John Wall. Harden wouldn’t even try playing with Wall and got traded to Brooklyn. And somehow Brooklyn, the star-player-clad, largest-media-market-in-the-country, should-win-a-title-in-their-sleep team isn’t good enough. Maybe Harden just doesn’t play well with others.
He informally requested a trade on the day of the trade deadline, reportedly because he was afraid of the public backlash that would come with a formal request, which is hilarious. Does he think fans care what kind of trade request it was? Before that day, I had no idea there was such a thing as a “formal” or “informal” trade request.
For it to be formal, does he have to write it in calligraphy and have it delivered to the general manager by carrier pigeon? What does an informal trade request look like? Did Harden say nothing, but have that unmistakable look in his eye as he peered into Sean Marks’ office? That look reserved only for significant others on romantic nights out, that look that says “trade me to Philadelphia, you stallion.”
I think I’ve figured it out. In Houston he had zero superstar teammates and in Brooklyn he had two. Philadelphia is a happy middle with one in Joel Embiid. Now Harden won’t have to carry a team by himself, but he can also spend 23 seconds of a shot clock dribbling in place whenever he wants before swan diving head-first into a defender and drawing a foul. Maybe this will really be the best situation for Harden, but if they flame out in the playoffs earlier than expected as Harden teams often do, go ahead and place your bets on where Harden will be on a flight to next February. My guess is Miami.