NBA star James Harden remained evasive Wednesday about his long-term future with the Houston Rockets, about why he wants to be traded and why he skipped the beginning of training camp. He also defended trips to Atlanta and Las Vegas, saying that he was there working out with “personal trainers” just as the Rockets began training camp.
Still, TNT NBA analysts Reggie Miller and Chris Webber did not blame Harden for wanting to leave Houston or for his tardy arrival at training camp. On a conference call ahead of TNT’s coverage of the NBA’s season openers next week, Miller and Webber explained why they mostly find the Rockets at fault for the situation. They also detailed why both parties should finalize a breakup soon.
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Below is a Q&A of that conversation, which has been edited for brevity and clarity.
What do you make of Harden’s situation in Houston?
Webber: "When you sign a contract, you must honor it and you must be professional. I think you shouldn’t just give away your best player. I think you should try to get the ultimate value for that player. But just as we saw with Giannis [Antetokounmpo] making a commitment [with the Bucks] because of the commitment made to him, what happens when that changes? So his head coach that built the system [Mike D’Antoni] is gone and the GM [Daryl Morey] is gone. There’s a rookie head coach [Stephen Silas], who is going to be a good one. But now the expectations have changed. If you’re an organization that wants a great team going forward or to build, you must do the little things.
"I keep hearing you have to get value. But I don’t think you’re ever going to get real value for a great player like that. So because of all of those things, it’s in the best interest of Houston to move on as soon as it can. It’s almost like they’ve moved on from everything except for Harden. There’s not the goals and not the championship thoughts. So it’s like they’ve peaked. So if you’re going to rebuild, you should officially do it. I think it can be amicable for both sides."
Houston Rockets guard James Harden leaves the court after Tuesday's preseason victory over the San Antonio Spurs. (Photo: Mike Wyke, Pool Photo/USA TODAY Sports)
Miller: "I don’t think you will ever get the same value in return for James Harden. But I think Houston has to kind of take the same path as [GM] Sam Presti and the Oklahoma City Thunder. I think you have to try to stockpile [assets] and get as many first-round picks as possible. It’s time probably to retool and revamp that Houston Rockets system.
"Can they win and be successful if James Harden decided to stay and play with DeMarcus Cousins and John Wall? I’m sure. But the West is loaded… The system that was built around him by Mike D’Antoni is gone as well as Daryl Morey with his small-ball lineups. Out of respect to a guy that has helped you win a lot of ball games and a generational-type player in James Harden, it’s time to move on. He’s not 100 percent vested in the Houston Rockets right now.”
How do you evaluate the Harden era?
Miller: "I characterize this as a success for James Harden. When he was picked up from OKC, he had won the Sixth Man of the Year. But we didn’t really know what he was capable of doing. The Rockets gave him a platform to become a superstar. That’s exactly what he did, and he put Houston on the map. He put them in contention year after year. The Rockets maxed out their national televised games because of James Harden. To me, it was a success.
"It was a win-win for him because he established himself as a superstar. It was a win-win for the franchise because they became even more valuable. It was a win-win for everyone around. It shouldn’t be bad feelings or animosity on his way out. I think he’s being very professional about it. He showed up to training camp and is playing. He’s not throwing out derogatory comments toward players or the front office. He is handling this as a true professional. Hopefully the organization finds the right trading partner and they get a lot of picks out of him."
Webber: "It’s been wildly successful. I don’t think any player had more impact in this game in this era than Steph Curry and James Harden. It just comes down to they just had one game that they missed 27 3s in a row [against the Golden State Warriors in Game 7 of the 2018 Western Conference finals]. You have to credit the genius of Curry and Golden State. Although we critiqued Harden’s game and his style of play, when you ask players, they thought he won two MVPs before he got his first one. So I think it’s been wildly entertaining. It’s made small ball great. He took [Manu] Ginobili’s Euro-step back to another level. He’s one of the best scorers we’ve ever seen. You have to put him and [Kevin] Durant up there. It was wildly successful for both sides in this era minus missing 27 3s in a row. I hope that they can trade him while everything is good. You don’t want a guy that is so good that everyone knows he should be playing for more. Then there is undue pressure on everyone else and it sets back your team’s growth."
How do you gauge how good the Rockets will be this season given all this uncertainty?
Miller: "The Rockets may say there is really no great deal out there and say 'James, I’m sorry, but this year you might have to suck it up.’ That is a scenario that could happen. But I want to see him traded and get a ton of draft picks and a fresh start for Coach Silas. You come into your first gig and this falls into your lap? That’s unfortunate for Coach Silas.”
Webber: "They still would have a really good team. You have John Wall coming back. Cousins is coming back from injury. I’m sure they’re coming off of minutes restrictions. But to me it’s a situation where if you have young guys and want to keep a culture strong, you try to do what you can [to deal Harden]. This is the youngest he’s going to be. He gets older tomorrow. But we are talking like he is gone and you may be just able to wait another year. We know he’s not going to miss any games. He’s definitely at least going to be scoring and entertaining."
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