In his first public statements since the trader to Los Angeles, former NBA MVP James Harden did not mince words on his tenure in Philly. Looking back on his short time with the 76ers, Harden took his latest jab at the franchise by accusing them of misusing his game and keeping him on a “leash.”
“Someone that trusts me believes in me, I’m not a system player, I am a system,” said Harden. “Someone that could have that dialog with me.”
Here, Harden specifically calls out the Sixers’ coaching staff for limiting his offensive game. Under Doc Rivers, Harden became an entirely different player than the one we saw in Houston. Dropping from 34.3 points per game to just 21 per game last season, James took on more of a playmaking role than as a scorer and it worked pretty well during the regular season. Unfortunately, the Sixers fell apart when it mattered the most and Harden was at the front end of blame for his role in the downfall. On the surface, James appeared to be embracing his new reality but when he failed to crack the All-Star roster in February, the cracks began to show.
All-Star Weekend Was The Beginning Of The End
It’s easy to forget that James Harden was once considered among the top five players in the game. During his glory days in Houston, he was averaging nearly 40 points a night and even won the MVP in 2018 when he led the Rockets to a 65-17 record. For a guy like that to become a borderline role-player next to Joel Embiid is a tough assignment and it seems that James never fully accepted the role.
The turning point came in February of this year when Harden was left off the All-Star team despite leading the NBA in assists. According to Doc Rivers, who was coach at the time, not making the cut really hurt James Harden and things were never the same for the team again. As the 2023 offseason approached, Harden was likely already having second thoughts about joining the 76ers. So when Daryl Morey kept him in the dark during the early stages of free agency, it was a lot easier for Harden to sever all ties with the organization.
The Last Chance For Harden
On his fourth team now in less than four years, this latest stop is probably the last chance for Harden to re-ignite his All-Star form. Alongside Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and Russell Westbrook, Harden’s playmaking, ball handling, and perimeter shooting should make the perfect fit in the backcourt and expectations have never been higher.
If the Clippers can stay healthy, they will be competing for a title. The only question is, what role Harden will play this season as the third man behind Kawhi and Paul? Can James humbly take a back seat, or will he be actively trying to resurrect his MVP campaign? For Harden’s sake, he will be much better off deferring to his new star teammates but the same was also said about Joel Embiid before things in Philly took a turn for the worst.