James Harden: NBA Players Control Their Own Destiny

Philadelphia 76ers Introduce James Harden
Philadelphia 76ers Introduce James Harden / Tim Nwachukwu/GettyImages

During his first press conference as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers, James Harden said out loud what we've all known for a long time: NBA players basically control their own destiny. Essentially what he was saying is that if an NBA star wants a trade to a specific franchise, he can almost always force it to happen.

Harden has been the prime example of NBA player empowerment over the past two seasons. He didn't want to play for the Houston Rockets anymore, so he demanded a trade in November of 2020, then reported to training camp late. Eventually he was traded to the Brooklyn Nets on January 14, 2021 to complete a Big 3 that included Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. It was the destination he wanted, and he made it happen.

This season, things fell apart in Brooklyn and Harden again wanted to be traded. Eventually he got his wish, as he was shipped to the Sixers at the trade deadline. He seems happy with the move.

The man Harden was traded for, Ben Simmons, essentially did the same thing. He refused to play until he was finally traded away from the Sixers.

That's the lesson here. NBA players can essentially force themselves to any franchise they want, as long as that team is willing to take them and has the salary cap space to do so. They just have to sit out, or publicly ask to be traded. That's all it takes.

Some love how empowered players are in the NBA. And it makes sense. In most other sports, stars are locked into their contracts regardless of what a franchise does around them. But there are downsides to this as well. Teams could receive less of a return if a star demands a trade and could be left worse off in the long run.

We'll have to see how Brooklyn and the Sixers wind up after this deal.