James Harden admits his communication with Rockets ‘got a little shaky’

Wednesday’s game between the Rockets and Brooklyn Nets is the first return to Houston by former franchise icon James Harden. As “The Beard” sees it, he hopes the focus is on eight-plus seasons of success at a high level, rather than a messy divorce that took place in recent months.

Harden initially asked for a trade during the 2020 offseason, having come to the conclusion that the Rockets simply weren’t good enough to compete for a championship. But led by new general manager Rafael Stone, Houston initially resisted any serious trade discussions, believing that Harden’s value could potentially grow as the months progressed.

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That led to an awkward dance between the player and team, including Harden’s delayed arrival to training camp for the 2020-21 season. Videos on social media showed him partying in Atlanta and Las Vegas, which seemed to create a rift between Harden and some of his teammates. From Harden’s perspective, there was clearly some frustration that his trade demand didn’t result in an immediate deal, along with an understandable desire to apply more pressure to help make it happen.

The saga finally came to an end on Jan. 13, when Stone dealt Harden to Brooklyn for a package that included a historic haul of future draft considerations. The argument could certainly be made that the organization’s patience paid off, with the Nets becoming more incentivized to get a deal done after a sluggish start to the season.

While both parties appear satisfied with the outcome, with Harden joining team he wanted most, the process to get there was certainly messier than either side would have liked. Looking back, here’s what Harden said this week to ESPN’s Malika Andrews:

I thought I would never leave that franchise. I thought I was going to be in Houston, obviously, for the rest of my career. Things happened. I’ve got different goals, and I’ve seen a different vision for myself and my career and my family.

Like I said, it doesn’t change the fact of how I feel about the city. But it just didn’t go as well — as smooth — as I planned. The communication between myself and the front office got a little shaky. And now I look back at it and I see these other scenarios, other situations that are happening, specifically around other players that are in Houston, in different sports. And their transition is going very smooth. And I would’ve hoped for mine to go that smooth, but it didn’t. I am where I am now.

Harden remains involved in various city initiatives, and Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta has already announced that Harden’s jersey will eventually be retired to the rafters at Toyota Center. Over time, both parties are hopeful that his legacy in Houston will be remembered for those eight completed seasons, rather than the bitter end in recent months.


During those eight years, Harden was eight-for-eight in All-Star appearances; a three-time scoring champion; and an MVP, among numerous accolades. He joined Hakeem Olajuwon and Moses Malone as the only players to ever win the NBA’s top award while with the Rockets.

The Rockets made the playoffs in all eight of Harden’s seasons, and they finished in the top four of the Western Conference in six of his final seven years. They were the only West team to win at least one playoff series in each of his last four seasons. By contrast, in the three years before Harden’s October 2012 arrival, Houston missed the playoffs each time.

Though they never won an NBA title, the Harden-era Rockets were objectively a big success story by nearly any measure. In time, both sides believe that will be the defining legacy of his tenure in Houston.


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