For several years after the Thunder traded James Harden to Houston in October 2013, a debate flowed in NBA circles. Did the Thunder trade the wrong Kevin Durant sidekick? Should Sam Presti have traded Russell Westbrook instead?
We have our answer, don’t you think?
The twilight of Westbrook’s career has not gone great, as his athletic ability has slowly eroded and he’s not the electric player he was for so many Oklahoma City seasons. Westbrook was a scapegoat with the Lakers, though he played well for the Clippers down the stretch of last season.
But the twilight of Harden’s career has gone worse. He remains capable of eye-popping games, but his overall contribution to his team can be in constant question.
And now he’s launching missiles at the Philadelphia 76ers, for whom he’s under contract.
Harden could have become a free agent this summer. He decided instead to exercise the $35.6 million option on his contract. And now Harden wants to be traded and is calling 76er executive Daryl Morey “a liar” after ESPN reported that the Sixers are ending trade talks for Harden.
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“Daryl Morey is a liar and I will never be a part of an organization that he’s a part of,” Harden said. “Let me say that again. Daryl Morey is a liar and I will never be a part of an organization that he’s a part of.”
Harden is the ultimate example of the NBA’s recent superstar trend: having it both ways. Embracing security, but also demanding freedom. Getting as much money as possible, but also directing where they want to go.
We’ve seen it with Damian Lillard and the Miami Heat trade talks, we saw it with Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Netropolitans, we saw it with Paul George and the Thunder four summers ago.
The ploy doesn’t have to be acrimonious – George did the Thunder a franchise-altering favor – but it often is.
Harden has forced a trade twice in the last three years – from Houston to Brooklyn in January 2021, from Brooklyn to Philadelphia in February 2022 – and now wants another, ostensibly to the Clippers.
Harden has threatened to not report to training camp, but the collective bargaining agreement has a clause that says any player who withholds his services for more than 30 days, while in the last year of his contract, “shall be deemed not to have completed” his contract. In other words, Harden would not be a free agent next summer, under that scenario.
The 76er conundrum is that Harden just isn’t worth it anymore – he’s not worth the $35.6 million Philly owes him this season, he’s not worth obtaining for any real assets, he’s not worth a big contract going forward.
Harden still is capable of a monster game – he produced a 42-point, 9-assist, 7-miss Game 4 against Boston in the Eastern Conference semifinals – and led the NBA in assists per game, 10.7, last season.
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But Harden’s defense is a detriment, he turns 34 next week, he rarely is in shape and he torpedoes team chemistry. The 76ers are the third team he has turned upside down with a trade request/demand in the last 31 months.
Harden’s trade value has shrunk.
The only place that Harden has been seemingly happy in the last 10 years was Houston, which created a laissez-faire culture that allowed Harden to come and go as he pleased, according to a variety of reports.
After Russell Westbrook was traded to Houston in July 2019, Westbrook reportedly was appalled at the way the Rockets capitulated to Harden.
There’s some irony in that, of course. The Thunder capitulated to Westbrook over the years. But Westbrook’s hold on the Thunder was more about a dominant personality who set a standard on how things should run. Sometimes that standard ran off the rails. But it never was indifferent or permissive.
Westbrook never blew up a team. Harden has, repeatedly.
For years after the Thunder famously traded Harden, a debate swelled. Did the Thunder trade the right sidekick to Kevin Durant?
The answer was yes.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at [email protected]. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.
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This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: James Harden up to his old antics with battle vs. 76ers, Daryl Morey