Prior to the start of the season James Harden and the Houston Rockets had different objectives for 2020-21. Harden was hoping to get to the Brooklyn Nets and the Rockets were hoping to convince him to stay in the Space City.
Although Harden was under contract, he sought ways to force himself to his desired destination, following suit of many others we’ve seen over the years, joining the likes of Carmelo Anthony (as he sought to leave the Denver Nuggets), Paul George (as he sought to leave the Indiana Pacers), Kawhi Leonard (as he sought to leave the San Antonio Spurs), Anthony Davis (as he sought to leave the New Orleans Pelicans), Jimmy Butler (as he sought to leave the Minnesota Timberwolves) and the list goes on.
As we all know, Harden arrived to training camp late, as he opted for an event-filled weekend that included partying both in Las Vegas and with trap artist Lil’ Baby. To make matters worse, Harden reportedly promised Houston Rockets coach Stephen Silas that he would arrive on a Sunday for a private workout, which he never actually showed up for.
Harden started the season on a tear, averaging 37 points and 11 assists through the first 3 games, while making 52.4 percent of his shots and shooting 45 percent from long-range. To say that Harden cooled off would be an understatement, as he averaged just 17.4 points and 10 assists, on a horrid 37.8 percent from the field and 25.6 percent from deep over the next 5 games.
Harden was eventually granted his wish and traded to the Nets, and inserted himself into the MVP discussion, helping the Nets withstand injuries to Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, while they won 20 of 23 games at one point before having injury issues. But Harden having injury woes was an abnormality, as he had been one of the league’s true iron men for a long time, as he had finished within the top three in minutes played in 5 of the previous 6 seasons and even led the league altogether in consecutive seasons (2014-2016).
NBA analyst cites James Harden’s Houston Rockets exit as cautionary tale
But according to Sirius XM’s NBA insider Justin Termine, Harden’s behavior at the onset of the season was the very reason why the injury bug came back to haunt him during the season and especially during the postseason, as Termine explained on his daily show NBA Today.
“Who came in out of shape? James Harden, that’s who.
Harden is the one that didn’t take care of his body heading into the season and didn’t take it seriously, because he wanted to make sure that he was out of Houston.
And that [came] back to bite him because you can’t convince me otherwise that that’s not why he got hurt.”
Harden suffered a hamstring injury that sidelined him for 18 consecutive games during the regular season, although he was able to play for the entire opening round series against the Boston Celtics, posting averages of 27.8 points, 10.6 assists, and 7.2 rebounds on an impressive 76.1% true shooting.
But the hamstring injury came back to haunt him in the Nets’ Semifinals matchup against the Milwaukee Bucks, forcing Harden to essentially miss the first 4 games of the series, before bravely returning from a Grade 2 hamstring strain in Game 5. Although Harden was able to play for the remainder of the series, it was clear that he was limited, as he notably turned down a fastbreak opportunity because of the inability to accelerate, due to his injury.
Harden’s injury could very well have been tied to him seeking to get out of Houston, like Termine suggested, but as pointed out previously, he’s not the only person that forced his way onto a new team. Harden’s injury very well could have been due to the NBA’s condensed schedule in 2020-21 or even the fact that he averaged 38 minutes through his first 33 games in Brooklyn, which would have been more than any season with the Houston Rockets in which Mike D’Antoni was the head coach.
Regardless, we’ll never know what exactly caused Harden’s body to break down but Termine’s theory will be put to the test next season, as he’ll be entering the season with a team that he wants to be a part of.