The NBA season is in full swing, and we will be here each weekday with the NBC Sports daily roundup Three Things to Know — everything you might have missed in the Association, every key moment from the night before in one place.
1) James Harden needs to own one key reason he hasn’t been traded yet
Consider the message sent.
A couple of days ago, a report came out that Houston was optimistic James Harden wouldn’t push his trade demand and would stay with the team the rest of the season. Tuesday night, after the Lakers toyed with the Rockets for the second straight game, Harden lobbed a hand grenade on top of that report during his postgame press conference.
“[The Rockets are] just not good enough. Chemistry, talent-wise, it was clear…
“I love this city. I literally have done everything that I can. I mean, this situation is crazy. It’s something that I don’t think can be fixed.”
Harden sent his message — he wants to be traded.
He also is not going to get his wish in the immediate future. If he wants to know why he needs to find a mirror.
To be fair, at the heart of what is holding up a Harden trade is Houston asking for the entire bank to send out the MVP and three-time scoring champion. The Rockets want a franchise cornerstone younger player, three first-round picks, and more. No team is coming forward with anything close to that right now, so the Rockets are waiting out the market, hoping a slow start to the season will make one team desperate enough to up their offer (Philadelphia to part with Ben Simmons is a deal, for example).
Another part of the reason no team has stepped up is Harden himself.
Harden hasn’t exactly made himself look like a value showing up late to training camp and out of shape, he flaunted the league’s coronavirus guidelines, he has argued with teammates, and as Marc Stein of the New York Times pointed out, Harden hasn’t exactly been bringing it with the Rockets this season.
Harden’s last five games:
39.7 FG %
5 or fewer FTA in four of those five games
None of it is anywhere near typical Harden standards … whether that’s a byproduct of the team’s overall struggles, his desire to leave, suboptimal conditioning or factors unknown
— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) January 13, 2021
On top of all that, at age 31 Harden is on the back end of his prime, and in two years whatever team trades for him will need to re-sign him to another max contract. Any star needs to be paired with another star to win a ring, but Harden hasn’t gotten along with Dwight Howard, then Chris Paul, then Russell Westbrook. He has been demanding of the Houston organization and bent the Rockets’ culture to his whims.
None of that leaves teams thinking, “we have got to get that guy right now.”
Harden is also an elite player, the kind that changes a franchise and rarely becomes available. He certainly has shown flashes this season of his vintage self — the guy who led the league in scoring is still in there and nobody should question that Harden can, relatively quickly, become that player again. But other teams are looking where Harden is right now, looking at the price tag, and deciding to wait (especially if they think Bradley Beal might become available).
Harden’s made it clear he still wants to be traded. He also made his own bed, and he’s going to have to lie in it a while longer.
2) NBA tries to go into bubble without the bubble
After consecutive days of talks between the league’s GMs, players’ union, owners, and executives from league headquarters, the league has come out with a plan to tighten its coronavirus protocols for a couple of weeks to get through this rough patch.
Essentially, the NBA is trying to create a bubble without actually going into the bubble. The new temporary rules include:
• Players staying in their homes when in their home market, not going out except when absolutely necessary.
• Players and staff not leaving their hotel while on the road, except for games.
• Players cannot have guests up to their hotel rooms on the road.
• Players wearing a mask in the locker room, on the bench, and basically all times they are not playing.
• No hugging of opposing players or extended conversations postgame.
This is the best the NBA can do right now. The league is not hitting pause and suspending play for a week or two (because if they did players would not exactly go home, hunker down, and avoid the virus at all costs, instead they would return with higher infection rates). Nobody wants to do the actual bubble again.
The players don’t like this, but they do like getting their paychecks. So they will follow along, at least for a while.
Portland’s Mr. Everything Damian Lillard put it best:
“I feel like I’m living my life in a box; I’ll go to practice, I go back home. I don’t go anywhere else. I can’t go to dinner, go to a movie, or hang out with my family cause my family members they have lives. I live on my phone cause I can’t interact with people in person basically…
“If we don’t accept that that’s the way it has to be then we lose out on a lot of things. Our season, our health, our contracts. Everything goes downhill if we don’t play by those rules.”
3) Joel Embiid, LeBron James show why they should be in early MVP discussion
It’s far, far too early to have any serious MVP discussion. We are just 15% of the way into the season. Look at it this way: In the marathon of the NBA season, we are just on Mile 4. There is a long way to go.
However, if one were to have that early discussion, two names that would have to come up are Joel Embiid and LeBron James, and they both put on a show Tuesday.
Embiid went out and put up 45 on the defending East champs from Miami (without Bam Adebayo, but still), leading Philadelphia to an overtime win. Embiid is averaging 26.6 points and 12.1 rebounds a game this season, leading the Sixers to an 8-4 record.
LeBron James is just toying with the rest of the NBA at this point, and his Lakers are clear-and-away the best team in the league so far.
It’s a long way to go to the MVP vote, and other players will be in the conversation — Nikola Jokic is off to a ridiculous start, for example — but Embiid and LeBron are going to be part of the conversation.