When John Wall started looking like his old self and Christian Wood emerged as a beast pick-and-roll partner, there was, for a fleeting moment, a last-ditch sense of hope that perhaps James Harden would recant his trade demand. So much for that.
While talk has died down around Harden's public preseason demand, the superstar guard still clearly wants out of Houston. On Tuesday, after Houston got smoked by the Lakers to fall to a Western Conference-worst 3-7 for the season, Harden only needed a few words to say everything about the situation with the Rockets, whom Harden proclaimed are "just not good enough."
"We're not even close, honestly, to, obviously, the defending champions (Lakers) and all the other elite teams out there," Harden said. "I mean, you can tell the difference in these last two games.
"Chemistry, talent-wise, everything. It's clear. I love this city. I've literally done everything I can. It's crazy. I don't think it can be fixed. Thanks."
Then he got up and walked off the podium.
James Harden asked if he’s surprised the #Rockets didn’t make a run: “We’re just not good enough..Chemistry, talent-wise, everything. It’s clear..I love this city I’ve literally done everything that I can..It’s crazy. It’s something that I don’t think can be fixed.” pic.twitter.com/1bbfrytyUj— Mark Berman (@MarkBermanFox26) January 13, 2021
Shortly after Harden's comments, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted that the Rockets remain engaged in trade talks for Harden, but that they're asking price remains high and no deal is imminent.
The Rockets are currently having Harden trade discussions with more than a half dozen teams, and that Houston owner Tilman Fertitta continues to assure Harden that he will find a trade for him, ESPN's Tim MacMahon, Ramona Shelburne and Wojnarowski reports. Fertitta is said to have "empowered" new Rockets GM Rafael Stone to carry out a trade.
None of this is really news, of course. The Rockets have been shopping Harden all along, and of course their asking price is going to be high. The new variable is Harden publicly losing patience as he copes with the fact that he can't completely bully his way out of town with two guaranteed years, plus a third-year player option, remaining on his contract.
In addition to taking his gripes to the media, Harden has basically quit on the court, having scored fewer than 20 points in each of his past four games. The last time that happened was 2011-12, according to ESPN Stats & Info. The drop-off has been obvious, per CBS Sports HQ research:
|Harden stats||First 3 games||Last 5 games|
Points per game
Field goal percentage
3-pointers per game
Harden has listed numerous teams as acceptable trade destinations, including the Nets, Sixers, Heat, Blazers and Bucks. But again, Harden doesn't have all the leverage here. Yes, he's a power player who, along with his agent, holds major sway behind closed doors, but he's not in a walk year. Houston can, and likely will, trade him to whatever team offers the best package, not the team Harden prefers, and until then Harden's going to be in Houston.
With all the chaos surrounding Kyrie Irving and the Nets right now, you wonder how that might, if at all, impact a potential deal for Harden, or if the Sixers would be willing to shake up the good vibes they're building with their hot start to the season. The teams to which Harden wants to be traded, in most cases, either don't have the assets or the incentive to swing a deal, unless Houston drops its price.
It's going to be tough for the Rockets to get anything close to a fair value, and Harden is trying to put the screws to them on the chance that they'll buckle under the pressure, get sick of the drama, and cut their losses with a lesser deal to rid themselves of what is only going to become a worse headache. Because how long can the organization put up with this? How long can the other Rockets players share the same locker room with Harden as he tells anyone and everyone that they're not good enough for him?
For his part, Wall is clearly growing tired of Harden's act as Houston's season -- Wall's first season back after two years on the shelf -- has been entirely hijacked by Harden's agenda.
"He's [Harden] talking to his own opinion. I can't know what he thinks about the team or what he feels like we are," Wall said, via the ESPN report. "I know how much hard work these guys put in ... to try to get better every day. I know how much work I put into it to get back and compete at a high level.
"There's a lot of guys here that want to compete at a high level," Wall continued. "Like I told everybody tonight and told the guys before, when one through 15 guys are all on the same page and they commit and they know their role and they know what they want to get out of this and that's to win, it'll all be fine. But when you have certain guys in the mix that don't want to buy in all as one, it's going to be hard to do anything special or anything good as a basketball team."