James Harden is at a crossroads. The most capable bucket-getter to step on a court in decades—and perhaps ever—could have taken stock of the changes around him and recommitted to reinventing the Houston Rockets as contenders. Instead, he's making no secret that his desire is to press the eject button and follow Daryl Morey and Russell Westbrook out of town. Specifically, to the greenest possible pasture on the other side of the fence.
Per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne:
The arrival of John Wall has left All-NBA guard James Harden unmoved and uninterested in pursuing a new partnership, and the franchise star continues to push the Houston Rockets for a trade, sources told ESPN.
Now, it does seem as though Harden understands that finding a willing trade partner for such a blockbuster deal may take some time. And he has made loose promises to be professional and engaged upon rejoining the team after going through COVID-19 protocol. But couldn't a person argue that it's already too late for that?
Harden can pick up where he left off, pouring in 34-plus points and nine assists per night for the Rockets. There's no forgetting that he doesn't want to be there. That toothpaste cannot be put back in the tube.
On aggregate, player empowerment is a force for good. In this case, though, one wonders if the me is torpedoing the we. Actually, that's not true. Because no matter how spectacular he is on the court for the Rockets this year, he won't be a teammate. He's already lost that ability by his premeditated behavior. And acting like an even squeakier wheel is a time-tested method to grease the skids for movement out of town, so consider his motivations carefully.
Harden should do what he wants to do. The question I keep coming back to, though, is this: just who is finding themselves sympathetic to his cause? Rarely if ever do I find myself channeling Don Draper because of the handsome deficit, but here goes. If Harden is so unhappy with getting an opportunity to put up obscene stats, compete for the MVP, and slip into the Western Conference playoffs as a No. 6 seed, well, that's what the money is for.
The $38 million is supposed to blunt the pain of Morey not being in the next room. The obscene payday is supposed to inspire making the best of the circumstances. And, look, we're not going to solve anything here but there are millions upon millions out there who are asked to do the same with $38,000 a year.
This is not a rant about fairness or inequity or the immutable facts of revenue generation. It's simply a blog asking who they hell feels sorry for Harden, who is not striking a sympathetic chord while he looks for the best available shortcut.