The Loop

Dear Houston Rockets: Please don't trade James Harden to a team I like

January 07, 2021

Cato Cataldo

There's an interesting article today on ESPN looking at potential destinations for James Harden if the Rockets bow to his pressure and send him packing. A trade of some kind looks increasingly likely—Tim McMahon's recent piece detailed what an absolute nightmare of a star player Harden has been in his time with the Rockets, despite his excellence on the floor. He misses practices, leaves for days to party, sulks if he's not getting enough touches, and runs teammates out of town when it reaches a point where they can no longer stand him...including Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook. He showed up to camp overweight and a week late after flaunting COVID restrictions, and clearly is no longer happy in Houston.

The consensus is that if he heads somewhere, it will be to a title contender in the east, and ESPN tips Boston, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Miami, and Toronto as possible landing spots. At this point, it looks inevitable.

I have just one request for Houston: Please don't trade him to a team I like. James Harden is the absolute worst, his ruin-everything potential is huge, and I only ask that you don't rip the joy from my heart by dealing him where he can do the most damage.

Along with his apparent attitude problems, Harden is just misery to watch. You almost have to respect the spiritual bog that is his style, especially in an era where NBA basketball is more fun than ever and populated by transcendent and even wizard-like stars. Harden, against the grain of history, is an abomination. Liz Franczak at the Ghost of Deadspin had the best description of his, and the team's, modus operandi:

"Harden and the Rockets have, in more than a few ways, delivered on the demands of the increasingly efficiency-adherent sport. Advanced analytics have long been a battle cry for the self-appointed smartest guys in the room, who over the years have pushed the game into a world where efficiency matters more than anything else. The Rockets and James Harden embodied this charge, pushing it towards its limit until their brand of highly efficient basketball mutated into what it is today: James Harden isolating for 12-20 seconds, stepping back, and trying to draw a foul on a three-pointer. This is efficiency gone rogue."

To add to that, the rest of his team jacks up three-pointers at a truly insane rate, but it's not as fun as it sounds. It's like watching a computer learn to play basketball, and while it has been very successful and nearly yielded the Rockets a title, it is cynical and gross.

Surely, Harden will carry both his sour demeanor and his dispiriting game to wherever he goes next. Early in the NBA season, the teams I've enjoyed watching the most are the Pelicans, Hawks, and Suns, and luckily none of those teams seems to be a likely destination. But while it might make sense for he and fellow lunatic Kyrie Irving to team up in Brooklyn, that would be a sad outcome for an entertaining team, as would the Heat and the lovable Raptors.

On paper, Boston is the perfect place for him. Not only are they coached by a guy who brought the "win games by scoring 39 points and fouling on every possession" college basketball philosophy to the NBA, but he can team with players like Marcus Smart to just muck up anything good that exists on the court. That said, Jaylen Brown and Jason Tatum are fun, and even though I preternaturally hate all things Boston, I'm scared at what it would mean to have Harden on their team. There is such a thing as too much hate.

Really, Houston has been the perfect place to contain him. They never became super annoying by winning a title, and aside from a deep run or two, have been sort of forgettable beyond the novelty of Daryl Morey's Moneyball tactics. Nobody really hates Houston, and nobody but their own can really love them. It was the ideal vanilla packaging to go with the game's most pungent superstar.

But unless Harden somehow goes to the Minnesota Timberwolves, which feels unlikely, his particular stain is about to spread to the NBA proper. All we can do now is limit the damage. Please, Houston, spare us this pestilence, at least on the entertaining teams of the league. And to Mr. Harden: in the unlikely case that you're reading this, well...I've heard Charlotte is lovely this time of year.