James Harden hasn’t exactly acquitted himself well as a leader this offseason.
First, he said all his teammates besides Dwight Howard are role players. Then, when patching things up with Chandler Parsons, he clarified he wasn’t talking about the new Mavericks forward. See, Harden meant all his current teammates were below he and Howard in the pecking order.
No matter what Harden truly believes – and I doubt his opinions are as sinister as they came across – he kept sticking his foot in his mouth. Part of leadership is inspiring other players, and regardless of your intentions, that’s hard to do when you keep denigrating them.
But with Team USA, Harden has been a model leader.
Mike Krzyzewski has raved about Harden’s leadership, and now Jerry Colangelo joins the chorus. Colangelo, via Michael Lee of The Washington Post:
“Right now, I think I would look to Harden as that leader,” USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo said as his team continues to prepare for the tournament in which the winner earns an automatic berth in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. “Harden is kind of a natural leader and he seems to be willing to accept that role. And you can just kind of feel it and sense. He’s the one.”
Colangelo said Harden has been one of the team’s most vocal players and has helped elevate practices with his effort and tenacity.
“I don’t know if he’s been waiting [to lead]. It’s evolved,” Colangelo said. “He came in as a pretty high draft pick. Got off to a great start in Oklahoma City. Whether he was disappointed or surprised by what transpired, he found himself in another uniform and that’s part of life in pro sports and the NBA, and I think he’s adjusted to that and his numbers get bigger and he’s being recognized more and more as the player he is. And this is a great platform for him to come out as a leader.”
What’s gotten into Harden? He’s even showing effort on defense in advance of the World Cup.*
Harden, via Lee:
“First of all, you got the top players in the world on your team, so if you’re not focused and locked in on defense, they are going to embarrass you,” Harden said. “I think our coach has done a phenomenal job of making sure we’re keyed in. [Chicago Bulls Coach and Team USA assistant Tom] Thibodeau is phenomenal with that defensive presence, so all those things collectively is why I’m so locked in.”
In some ways, this probably comes naturally to Harden. He and Anthony Davis are the only members of the World Cup roster to play in the 2012 Olympics, and Davis hadn’t even begun his NBA career prior to London. Harden is the American team’s elder statesman.
But I also think Harden has more to offer when pushed. It’s up to Kevin McHale and Daryl Morey to challenge him in Houston next season.
Harden is doing his part to reach the next level. The Rockets can and should learn from Team USA how to help get the most from him.