If the James Harden-Rockets situation wasn’t clear before, it is now.
Houston has a problem.
Harden, who asked to be traded during the brief offseason, spoke with the media for the first time since the Rockets season ended in the Orlando bubble in the fall, and based on his sometimes evasive answers and body language the perennial All-Star and elite scorer has all but checked out. It seems all but a matter of time before the Rockets find a suitable trade partner to mark the official end of the James Harden era in Houston.
When asked if he wanted to remain with the Rockets or move on, Harden responded, “Right now I’m just focused on being here.”
Harden missed the first couple of days of training camp last week while first being seen in Atlanta, then later in Las Vegas partying with friends. He showed up to training camp late and then had to go through extended COVID-19 protocols because he had clearly been violating the NBA’s social distancing mandate.
Harden told reporters that he missed the start of training camp and was in Atlanta and Las Vegas working with his personal trainer to prepare for the season.
Harden did make his debut with the Rockets’ new coaching staff, led by Stephen Silas, and his new teammates – most notably John Wall and DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins this week. He put up 12 points in his preseason debut on Tuesday night against the Spurs, and then Thursday night, Harden scored 20 points on 8-of-14 shooting and three-of-six from 3-point range in 27 minutes against San Antonio.
Harden said it felt good to be back out on the floor playing five-on-five basketball. But Harden has been non-committal when it comes to remaining with the Rockets.
“I can only focus on right now, and for me the best James Harden is making sure I’m in shape,” Harden said. “Like I’ve said, I had not gotten the opportunity to play five-on-five. Individual workouts, weight-lifting and individual training is great, but every NBA player can agree there is nothing like five-on-five training, the physicality of making reads and things like that.”
Harden has reportedly been upset with all of the upheaval the Rockets have experienced since being eliminated from the bubble playoffs by the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers. The Rockets have parted ways with both coach Mike D’Antoni and long-time general manager Daryl Morey.
It has been said that Harden has no desire to play for a rookie head coach and first-time general manager in Rafael Stone. His backcourt mate last season, Russell Westbrook, also asked to be traded and was granted his request when he was dealt to the Washington Wizards for John Wall and a conditional first-round draft pick in next year’s NBA Draft.
Harden initially asked to be traded to the Brooklyn Nets to reunite with former Oklahoma City Thunder teammate Kevin Durant. There have also been rumors of trade talks with Philadelphia, Miami and Milwaukee. But the Rockets high asking price for their primary draw has been too steep for most and there seems to be at least some reluctance to swap the 31-year-old Harden who has three years remaining on a $133 deal for a young star and trade assets. But a suitable trade partner could come soon as the Rockets are said to be looking at a wider trade pool than Harden had originally requested.
Silas, who has tried to stay out of the disgruntled Harden conversation as much as possible, seems to be in a tough spot for his first head coaching assignment.
“If we exactly knew what it was all – kind of where his head was at, I think it would be good for everybody,” Silas said of Harden. “But we are dealing in reality which is things change on a day-to-day basis. Things change on a game-to-game basis.
“As I’ve said before, my job is to coach this basketball team and make sure that the guys are put in the right position.”
When asked by The Defender what he thought Harden’s level of buy-in is with him, Silas responded, “As far as his buy-in with me, it seems pretty good. We talked hoop and talked about different situations and that sort of thing.
“I can’t speak for James, I can’t really say what he is thinking or what he is not thinking. I’m really concentrating on the group that we have that is on the floor and making sure they play their best.”
Harden came across as being positive when it came to Silas and the new pieces that have been put in place around him, which also includes center Christian Wood.
“Obviously, they are motivated, they are motivated, they are excited for the opportunity,” Harden said to The Defender. “The players are the same way.
“For not really playing last year, John really looks like he is getting back to his normal self, and Boogie as well. They are all excited as far as new opportunities, which it showed (Tuesday).”
Follow Terrance Harris on Twitter @terranceharris