After 8 Years of Marital Bliss, the Houston Rockets Have a James Harden Problem

Illustration for article titled After 8 Years of Marital Bliss, the Houston Rockets Have a James Harden Problem
Photo: Scott Halleran (Getty Images)

The workplace is delicate.

There are egos to manage, conflicting personalities, roles to assign, salaries to determine, and morale is kind of a big deal too. And after eight seasons of perennial disappointment in Houston, James Harden has made it abundantly clear that he has no desire to play for the Rockets.

There’s plenty of blame to go around.

While Harden has never had the right coach or complementary pieces—or co-star—to push the Rockets to true championship contention, his iso-heavy, ball-dominant style of play has proven itself difficult to build around. There’s also the fact that as much as Harden presumably wants to win, he’s refused to adjust his game into something more conducive to team basketball instead of just putting up gaudy numbers at his teammates’ expense.

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But at this point, none of that shit even matters because after rejecting an extension that would’ve made him the NBA’s first $50 million a year player, Harden wants nothing more than to follow ex-teammate Russell Westbrook out the door.

The Rockets, however, refuse to acknowledge the writing on the wall. They’re still wearing their wedding ring in public, they refuse to update their Facebook relationship status, and they’re telling anyone who will listen that a willingness “to get uncomfortable” is the key to marital bliss. Some might point at the Lakers and Kobe Bryant as the perfect example of a preeminent player and organization working through their marital strife, but this is a different era, bruh. And if Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, LeBron James, and others have proven anything, it’s that these hoes ain’t loyal.

Harden wants a divorce, and sooner or later, Houston will be forced to grant his wish—whether he makes it easy for them or not.

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When Harden skipped the team’s first workout on Sunday, the Rockets tried to save face by pointing at the league’s new COVID-19 protocols as the culprit. (Players are prohibited from hitting up bars, lounges or other social gatherings with more than 15 people in attendance, and apparently, their franchise player thought it was more important to hit up rapper Lil’ Baby’s birthday party than bother with training camp.) But when Harden also skipped an individual workout Sunday evening, well, Houston had some explaining to do. And by explaining, I mean they were forced to admit that he’s...holding out.

“I’ve been in situations before where it was a holdout, and we just kind of handled each individual situation on its own merit and individually,” coach Stephen Silas told reporters on Monday. “As far as any sort of punishment, we haven’t even crossed that bridge yet. We’re just trying to work piece by piece.”

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Soooooooooooo when is Harden expected to return to the team?

“There is no timetable, as far as I know,” Silas admitted. “It is a setback. You want your best player to be here.”

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You think?

But do you really want your best player to be there when he doesn’t even want to be there?

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On Tuesday morning, NBA insider Adrian “Woj” Wojnarowski spilled the beans on Harden expanding his list of potential suitors to include Philadelphia and other contenders. And while the Rockets might hold all the leverage right now, since Harden still has three years left on his contract, that leverages goes completely out the window once the season starts if the eight-time All-Star starts sulking.

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I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on this story as it develops, but if I was the Rockets, I’d just sign the divorce papers, hop on Bumble, and move on to courting the next NBA superstar.

Menace to supremacy. Founder of Extraordinary Ideas and co-host and producer of The Extraordinary Negroes podcast. Impatiently waiting for ya'll to stop putting sugar in grits.

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DISCUSSION

justanotherburneraccount2222
JustAnotherBurner

When you say he hasn’t had the right pieces... I’m not sure there are right pieces to play with him. He had Dwight Howard back when he only went invisible in the playoffs (as opposed to all the time now). He played with Westbrook TWICE, once with Durant, granted, they were young. He’s also had several other solid role players, Gordon, PJ Tucker, etc. What type of player can even play with him? Adding a superstar, or regular star, doesn’t help, because they need the ball, too. Adding shooters or streakers won’t help, because he’s just standing around for 22 seconds every possession. Adding rim protectors doesn’t help. Having role players around him doesn’t help.

For all the shit people talk about LeBron, look at the teams he’s carried far beyond where they should have been. Sure, he only won with another star on the team, but every star he’s won with has been different (Kyrie, Wade, Bosh, Davis have basically no overlap between them). Then he carried fucking Dellavadova to the finals, where he has no business being.