At the time, James Harden took a lot of heat for forcing his way off the Nets in the middle of last season. In retrospect, he comes off as the guy who saw the Brooklyn situation for what it truly was.
Harden opened up about that to Yaron Weitzman of Fox Sports.
“I don’t mean to, like, just down talk to anybody or whatever. It was just, there was no structure and even superstars, they need structure. That’s what allows us to be the best players and leaders for our respective organizations,” he said….
“I just feel like,” Harden continued, “internally, things weren’t what I expected when I was trying to get traded there. I think everybody knows that. And I knew people were going to talk and say, ‘You quit’ and all that stuff, but then the following summer, the other superstar there [Durant] wanted to leave. So it’s like: Am I still the quitter?”
Last season with the Nets was a mess. Kyrie Irving was out of the lineup because he refused to get vaccinated, then he was in and out of the lineup as Nets changed their stance, then Irving was back before the playoffs when New York’s mandate was lifted. Joe Harris missed most of the season due to ankle surgery. Harden was traded for Ben Simmons, but Simmons never set foot on the court last season.
Kevin Durant and Harden clashed as well, Weitzman reports.
Also, Harden and Durant, according to multiple Nets sources, butted heads during the season – Durant didn’t think Harden was in peak physical shape, and told him as much; Harden, meanwhile, struggled to adjust to an ecosystem where everything was no longer catered to him. According to a friend, Harden also became frustrated with the Nets training staff and its focus on maintenance, rest and recovery; after all, in Houston he’d run stadium stairs and lift – even after games sometimes – and he never got hurt.
Most teams focus on rest and recovery around the league, considering the marathon 82-game schedule. However, what works for each player — post-game lifting is quite common around the league — varies from player to player. Harden’s routine was different — likely very different from the routine that worked for then-coach Steve Nash — and it led to a culture clash.
Harden is in Philadelphia now, a different player dealing with a different culture as he tries to adjust to playing next to Joel Embiid (and, hopefully soon, Tyrese Maxey again). Philly has won three straight and improved to 15-12 (fifth in the East), but there’s a lot of work to do and chemistry to build before they are the contender that some thought they could be — that Harden wants them to be.
Harden is honest in the interview about his legacy — he has had an unquestioned Hall of Fame career, but it lacks elite playoff success (he’s been to the NBA Finals once, with the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Durant/Russell Westbrook era). He understands the 76ers are his best chance to change that part of the narrative around him and he’s willing to do what it takes. And if that means leaving Brooklyn for a better situation, so be it.
There is nothing Harden can do about that part of his legacy in December, other than to build up chemistry (and rack up some wins) with the guys he will need when we get to the spring. That and staying healthy.