A lot has happened in the world of Houston sports this week. At the top of the list is James Harden’s departure from the Rockets. His wish to leave the Rockets was granted in a three-team trade that sent him to the Brooklyn Nets. Though it was clear that the differences between Harden and the Rockets were irreconcilable, the Rockets were aware of his value as a player and the rarity of his talent so they drug their feet in moving him. There was two years left on his contract so the reasoning at first may have been to see if things could work out with the new squad and try and convince him to stay or wait until another star became available for a fairer exchange. Well things turned quickly last week when after weeks of speculation, Harden finally had something to say directly to the press. Last Tuesday, when the Rockets faced the Los Angeles Lakers LeBron James hit a pretty dope no-look 3-point shot. That was big news, briefly.
The real news broke in the post-game presser when Harden fielded questions about the potential of the Rockets team as it stands now. He said, “We’re not even close, honestly. To that team, obviously the defending champions, and to all the other elite teams out there. I mean, you can tell the difference these last two games.”
He went on to say, “We’re just not good enough — the chemistry, talentwise, just everything. And it was clear like I said these last few games.”
Lastly, he said, “I love this city. I literally have done everything that I can. I mean, this situation is crazy. It’s something that I don’t think can be fixed. So, um…thanks.” After that he got up and left.
Some of his then teammates did not take too kindly to what he had to say. Namely DeMarcus Cousins who said, “Obviously, it’s disrespect…but um…. everybody has words to their opinion. We feel a certain type of way about some of his actions.”
Cousins went on to say, “When guys are in positions, being franchise players, or whatever the case may be, it’s usually sometimes a nasty breakup.”
Cousins just arrived in Houston and has expressed he was excited about teaming up with John Wall who also joined the squad over the summer. Eric Gordon, who has known and played with Harden for a long time, did not see Harden’s words as a slight against the guys on the team. Gordon explained that, “Obviously, from this summer, since the season started you could tell that he didn’t want to be here.”
He went on to say, “For me, knowing him personally, I don’t think he really meant it as far as to really disrespect us, and that’s just for me. I think he just wanted a different situation. He’s kind of shown that and he also said it.”
Brand new head coach Stephen Silas talked about his experience with James Harden saying, “I had an opportunity to coach a hall of famer and that’s one of the things that I was excited about. Obviously, it was a rocky start, a rocky midway and a rocky end, but he was nothing but professional to me. He gave me good advice, he was engaged, he asked good questions during practice. There was a professionalism that he brought, to me, it just didn’t work out.”
It wasn’t long after that Harden was traded to the Nets in a blockbuster deal.
Details of the Trade Via The Rockets
The Houston Rockets announced they have completed a three-team trade with Brooklyn and Cleveland. The Rockets traded guard James Harden to the Nets while acquiring guard Caris LeVert (Care-iss la-VERT) and forward Rodions Kurucs (RO-dee-ahns KOO-rootz) from Brooklyn along with guard Danté Exum from the Cavaliers.
Houston also acquired the following draft assets:
- Three unprotected first round picks from Brooklyn in 2022, 2024, and 2026.
- The right to swap first round picks with Brooklyn in 2021, 2023, 2025, and 2027.
- Milwaukee’s first round pick in 2022 from Cleveland.
“On behalf of the entire Rockets organization and the City of Houston, I’d like to thank James Harden for an amazing eight-plus seasons in a Rockets uniform,” said Rockets owner Tilman J. Fertitta. “James has provided us with so many great memories as we’ve watched him grow from Sixth Man of the Year to a perennial All-Star and MVP. My family and I also want to thank James for his many off the court contributions, including generous charitable donations and multiple annual community events. We wish James the best of luck and will always be grateful for the memories.”
LeVert (6-6, 205) was originally the 20th overall pick by Indiana in the 2016 NBA Draft before his rights were traded to Brooklyn. In 225 career games with 96 starts, he is averaging 13.1 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.1 steals. LeVert averaged 18.7 ppg last season, including 25.0 ppg during the seeding schedule in Orlando.
Exum (6-5, 214) was the fifth overall pick by Utah in the 2014 NBA Draft. In 245 career games with 72 starts, the 25-year-old is averaging 5.7 points, 2.1 assists, and 1.8 rebounds in 18.6 minutes per game. Over the past three seasons, Exum averaged 14.6 ppg, 5.0 apg, and 4.2 rpg per 36 minutes played.
Kurucs (6-9, 230) was the 40th overall pick by Brooklyn in the 2018 NBA Draft. In 115 games with 55 starts, the 22-year-old is averaging 6.5 points, and 3.4 rebounds in 17.3 minutes per game. Over his first two seasons, Kurucs averaged 13.6 ppg, 7.0 rpg, and 1.9 apg per 36 minutes played.
Harden leaves as the second-leading scorer in Rockets history with 18,365 points. He was an All-Star in each of his first eight seasons with Houston and was named MVP in 2017-18.
In a related move, the Rockets have waived forward Bruno Caboclo.
Additionally, the Indiana Pacers, a fourth team, was involved in the trade which would send the newly acquired LeVert and a second-round pick to them in exchange for Victor Oladipo.
The reaction to Harden leaving the city of Houston has been mixed. Some fans were upset enough to participate in the tired troupe of throwing out his jersey. For the most part, things had gotten so tense between Harden and the Rockets, with the cryptic social media posts, turning down a 2-year $100 million dollar extension, and the inconsistencies prior to the start of the season, that almost everyone knew that it was time for him to move on. He knew it most of all and that is why he did whatever was in his power to get moved to the Nets. Harden has now teamed up with his old teammate from his Oklahoma City Thunder days in Kevin Durant and might share the court with Kyrie Irving.
Harden penned a ‘Thank you’/‘Goodbye’ note to the city of Houston on his socials saying, “What can I write? What words can convey all the ways I feel. Houston you welcomed me
with no guarantees. Took a leap of faith and it changed my life and the lives of my family forever. This organization, this city has given me everything I could ask for and more. Before the scoring titles, long before MVP, you believed. For that I am forever indebted. The city opened its arms and welcomed me and my family as one of its own and for that I am forever indebted. I gave my mind, body and soul in hopes of bringing the glory to the city. I fell short and for that I am forever indebted. It’s far from a goodbye as I pay all my debts. TMC H Town!”
Harden’s marathon will in fact continue as he pursues his first Championship ring in Brooklyn; the accolade that has evaded him for the last 8 years of his tenure with the Rockets. In his debut with the Nets Harden didn’t waste any time reminding the city of Brooklyn what he’s capable of. He dropped a 32-point, 14 assists, and 12 rebound triple-double right out of the gate. All of the jokes about his endless dribbling and isolation ball went out the window fast as Harden was generous with the ball. His playmaking allowed for Durant to rack up 42 points while being 63% efficient from 3-point range.
“Man it was incredible,” Durant said of Harden’s playing. “You could see him trying to figure out the best way to play. Early on I felt like we were all overpassing, trying to make everybody comfortable. Then he just got into his mode of being aggressive to score and that opened up the whole game for all of us.”
“I’m a hooper,” Harden said post Nets debut. “I’m very unselfish. I’m willing to do whatever it takes to win. And obviously KD is just an elite, different type of basketball player as far as the way he’s able to score. It’s so easy for him, and I know that. I just want to make it a little bit easier if I can. And for the rest of our teammates, our shooters and our bigs, make it easier for them. So it was pretty easy out there.”
He went on to say, “We have some special talent in this locker room — very versatile shooters, playmakers, defenders, little bit of everything. Obviously, we haven’t built as much chemistry as we’d like. … Once you build that up and guys believe in each other, it’s pretty scary.”
His sentiments on his new squad are a far cry from his final comments about the Rockets. He is floating around the court and just looks happy to be doing what he loves in an environment where he feels comfortable.
His legacy in basketball is still being written and the truth is that he exceeded any expectations that the Rockets had 8 years ago when he first came to Houston. Eventually the feelings from the messy exit will subside and there is no doubt that one day Harden’s jersey will hang alongside the other great Rockets players in the rafters. Until then, the Rockets will rebuild and with Harden in Brooklyn, a true Western conference vs. Eastern conference rivalry may be back in play.