Dating back to Christmas, we had heard that James Harden and the Houston Rockets were on the brink of reuniting. It seemed like a sure thing. As a matter of fact, it was a sure thing, based on the weekly reports we were receiving (and sometimes daily).
Rockets fans were being told to dust off their old jerseys of Harden in Rockets red. It was an absolute guarantee. Harden's return seemed inevitable. Better yet, it was inevitable.
Until it wasn't.
Harden ultimately opted into the final year of his contract, taking the $35.6 million in hopes of a trade, with the LA Clippers being his preferred destination, per reports.
In the days leading up to free agency, Harden and his camp began leaking reports to the media regarding why exactly the two sides couldn't come to an agreement, and they were all in his favor. For example, we had heard that Harden didn't like Rockets guard Jalen Green's comments on LA Clippers star Paul George's podcast. The irony there is that George was actually the one who made the comments and Harden is now trying to join the Clipp....never mind.
Then we heard that Harden realized that the Rockets were still rebuilding, causing him to question their ability to reach the play-in tournament, never mind the playoffs, two things both Harden and his camp surely knew beforehand. This seemed like an attempt by Harden to control the narrative, and the Rockets weren't pushing back and were letting Harden control it.
According to senior NBA columnist Steve Bulpett, there is a much different reason why Harden and the Rockets didn't come to terms on an agreement: because Udoka, who coached Harden as an assistant with the Brooklyn Nets in 2020-21, didn't want him.
Rockets set record straight on repeated lies from James Harden's camp
“From everything we’ve gotten out of there, it was a matter that Ime didn’t want him,” one league source told Heavy Sports. “At the beginning, were they thinking about Harden? Yeah. But then they hired Ime, and Ime said, ‘It’s not going to work here.'
They wound up with a guy who fits better anyway,” the source said. “VanVleet is going to be able to give them scoring they need, but he’s not going to dominate the ball the way Harden would, the way Harden does."
Bulpett's source explained why the Rockets intially held an interest in Harden and why exactly that dissipated.
"Because that guy had two 40-point games against Boston in the second round of the playoffs, and there’s nobody on that roster that can do that. They do now, but before that there wasn’t anyone on the roster that could do that.
There wasn’t anyone on the roster who made an All-Star team. He’s done a lot of stuff.
As far as off the court, he’s not a good example. But on the court, he’s one of the most decorated players in the league.”
Bulpett's report is consistent with what ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported about the matter in recent days.
"I think once Ime Udoka came in as head coach, they started looking at their roster and what they wanted to do in free agency -- I think Fred VanVleet has moved to the top of the list in Houston."
Ultimately, it didn't have anything to do with any of the reasons Harden and his camp told the media. It was because Udoka and the Rockets simply decided against bringing him back.