James Harden says if it were up to him, he would have been a member of the Philadelphia 76ers since last season. During his introductory press conference with his new team on Tuesday, Harden revealed that the Sixers, and not the Nets, were his preferred destination when he requested a trade away from the Houston Rockets early in the 2020-21 season.
The Sixers were indeed interested in Harden at that time, but he was ultimately traded to Brooklyn for what turned out to be a detour on his route to Philadelphia. Harden lasted just over a year in Brooklyn before his wish was granted and he was traded to the Sixers (along with Paul Millsap) in exchange for Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond and a pair of future first-round picks at last week's deadline.
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"Originally when I was going through everything I was going through in Houston, Philly was my first choice," Harden said. "It just didn't happen... I just knew for a very long time, this was a perfect fit. Obviously, you have the best big man in the league in Joel [Embiid], and then obviously the coaching. From top to bottom it made sense. I'm just happy and blessed that I'm here... I'm excited for the opportunity."
Speaking of Embiid, Harden thinks that he will work well alongside the NBA's current MVP frontrunner. "I think we complement each other," Harden said of Embiid. "Obviously the whole world knows how great Joel has been playing. Not just scoring the basketball, but rebounding, he had a triple-double last game. His presence alone is unbelievable.
"I feel like I'm the same way as far as making my teammates better and doing different things to impact the game at the highest level, and then we have a great core of guys that can also help with that."
Harden, who won't make his Sixers debut until after the All-Star break, opted not to go into details about what went wrong in Brooklyn, other than saying that the past year was filled with a lot of "ups and downs" and a lot of stress. Instead, he chose to focus on what he sees as an excellent opportunity to contend for his first ever NBA title in Philadelphia.
"It's a time where I needed to be around guys that I know want to win, and know that they are willing to do whatever it takes to win, and the structure here is unbelievable," Harden said. "Like Daryl [Morey] said, the window is now. So my job is to come out there and help him and help the entire team win a championship this year and in years going forward."
Alongside Embiid, Harden plans to immediately assume a leadership role with the Sixers. "My job is to help be the leader," he said. "Be able to push guys and get that swagger out of guys every single night because ultimately that's going to help us get to the end goal, and that's to win a championship."
Championship is a word that has been mentioned in relation to this Sixers squad a whole lot since the trade went down last week, because the expectations for the team are now sky-high. Anything short of a Finals appearance would be considered an unsuccessful season in the eyes of many, given the level of talent now on the roster, and all that the team had to give up to land Harden. The former MVP isn't shying away from those expectations, though. When asked if he thought the Sixers could win a title this season, he had a succinct response:
What is James Harden's new jersey number for the Sixers
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