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Both James Harden and the Rockets Are at Fault for Their Tumultuous Relationship

Updated: Oct 9, 2021

Houston Rockets superstar James Harden made headlines last week after failing to report to training camp. Following his mysterious – and unexcused – absence, reports and videos emerged of Harden spending time in Atlanta and Las Vegas, partying, and violating COVID-19 protocols. So far, his team has remained silent on his whereabouts and failed to hold their franchise player accountable. James Harden is pushing the boundaries of professionalism, and the Rockets aren't doing much to stop him.

Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden looks down at the floor of Toyota Center during an NBA basketball game.
Image via Getty/Yong Teck Lim

During his eight years in Houston, Harden has created issues with multiple teammates. During the 2016-17 season, center Dwight Howard took offense to Houston's lack of leadership, alluding to Harden's nonchalant style both on and off the court. Howard left in free agency that offseason for Atlanta, relieved to escape and bring his positive attitude to a team that would appreciate it.

He again butted heads with point guard Chris Paul in their two seasons together. Though they almost defeated the juggernaut Warriors in the 2019 Western Conference Finals, the two guards spatted more than they sympathized. Paul was angered by the fact that Harden stopped giving effort without the ball in his hands. When he tried to call him out on the issue, Harden grew tired of it and demanded Houston's front office for Paul to be traded.

After Paul came Russell Westbrook, Harden's former teammate in Oklahoma City. Westbrook, notorious for his hustle and headstrong nature, quickly became angered when Harden was consistently late. Whether it was the team plane waiting to fly to their next venue or the film room, Westbrook became sick of it. But once again, Harden had his way with team management, because he's their star player. If he didn't get his way, he would demand a trade and put the organization in a desperate situation. So, Westbrook was traded to Washington D.C. in exchange for John Wall.

Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden passes the ball out to the perimeter during an NBA preseason game at Toyota Center against the San Antonio Spurs on December 15, 2020.
Image via USA TODAY Sports/Mike Wyke

From the top-down, no one in the Rockets organization wanted to question James Harden. From owner Tilman Fertitta to general manager Daryl Morey to head coach Mike D'Antoni, everyone watched as Harden took the wheel and never gave it up. According to ESPN, Harden has had the last word in the front office's offseason decisions. If he felt that they weren't setting him up to contend for a championship, he would simply ask out of Houston. End of story.

Though Harden is "just focused on being [in Houston]," his actions reveal his intentions. He even gave a list of his preferred trade destinations, including the Sixers, Heat, and Nets. However, these are contending teams in the Eastern Conference without much cap space to spare. If they were to take on Harden and push for a championship, they would have to rework their entire roster and strategy around his isolation-heavy game.

John Wall has looked great this preseason, Christian Wood could build upon his stellar stretch of games from late last year, and even DeMarcus Cousins could make a substantial return. Nonetheless, Harden has given up on the Rockets organization. They can only hope to receive a bevy of draft capital from his new employer to kickstart a lengthy rebuild.


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