Harden’s Painful Departure from the Houston Rockets
Within a month, the Rockets had moved on from Russell Westbrook in favor of John Wall and made a series of moves to bring in Christian Wood as a free agent. Despite Harden wanting out, the Rockets were hopeful that he could be convinced to stay if his new supporting cast could prove that contending for a title was still possible..
However, as training camp began in December, Harden made it abundantly clear where he stood. As his teammates reported to Houston, Harden was seen on video at various clubs in Atlanta and Las Vegas, a slap in the face to the organization and his peers.
Moreover, on the eve of the season opener against the Oklahoma City Thunder, it was discovered that Harden had attended another party without a mask. Not only was Harden leaving his teammates out to dry, but he was also putting people at risk during a pandemic that has killed nearly 400,000 Americans to date.
As Rockets fans saw the situation unfold before them, for the first time they were forced to grapple with the idea that perhaps Harden was not in fact infallible, and that continuing to blindly support him was starting to become a moral issue.
But the bonds that fans make with their favorite players are often difficult to sever. As the season finally got under way, Rockets fans continued to hope against hope that if the team got off to a hot start, Harden would perhaps have a change of heart.
And the idealism was not exactly unfounded. There had been bright spots throughout the early season for the Rockets; the return of John Wall to pre-Achilles injury form and Christian Wood’s offensive dominance to name a few.
However, after the demoralizing loss to the Lakers on Tuesday, the Rockets stood at 3-6 toward the bottom of the Western Conference. After only nine games, Harden put the nail in the coffin for the hopes of Rockets fans with his postgame statement.
James Harden says Rockets are "just not good enough … 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."
— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) January 13, 2021
Now the Rockets are faced with the same predicament that all teams have when moving on from a transcendent star player. As a rudderless franchise without a true identity, teams often spend years tying their hopes to promising players who do not pan out, or engage in the yearly sweepstakes to tank for a chance to obtain the number one pick.
Either way, there are no promises.
As Houston puts the Harden era in the rearview mirror it will be difficult for fans to maintain perspective as he continues to pursue a championship in Brooklyn. In retrospect, Harden gave Rockets fans an enthralling on-court product and an off-court identity.
But despite all of the success, Harden chose to end his time in Houston in the ugliest way possible with no regard for his teammates or supporters.
Undeniably, the history of the Houston Rockets can no longer be told without James Harden; the good, the bad and the ugly. But as has been illustrated in most cases of superstars forcing their way out, the bitter ending can often drown out the sweetness of better days.