James Harden was supposed to show up to work on Sunday as the Houston Rockets opened individual workouts for training camp. Instead, Harden was nowhere to be found. New head coach Stephen Silas said he has had no recent communication with his superstar guard, while Harden chose to issue a statement on Instagram in the form of an enlarged ‘grimace face’ emoji.
This all comes on the heels of an offseason full of turmoil for Houston. Longtime lead executive Daryl Morey left to join the Philadelphia 76ers, head coach Mike D’Antoni was shown the door, and Russell Westbrook forced his way out with a trade to the Washington Wizards. Harden has reportedly tried to force his way out too, with the Brooklyn Nets being his preferred location.
Harden has spent eight seasons in Houston and sees the end of the team’s contention window just like everyone else. No-showing to training camp just might be his way of strong-arming Houston into trading him, similar to how Jimmy Butler once forced his way out of Minnesota. Of course, there’s a still a big difference between how Butler and Harden go about their business: while Butler kept himself in peak shape so he could show up for a scrimmage and promptly demolish the rest of the team’s starters, Harden has been out partying.
This would be looked at as unprofessional during normal times, but of course these are not normal times. Harden isn’t just partying, he’s breaking both league protocol and common sense by partying in the middle of a global pandemic.
James Harden was spotted at the club again last night— NBA Central (@TheNBACentral) December 7, 2020
(IG: cbodadon) pic.twitter.com/D1i3CmEMoR
Harden was reportedly out at the clubs in Las Vegas while his teammates were reporting for camp. This comes two days after Harden was seen in Atlanta celebrating the birthday of Lil Baby.
Harden seems like an amazing and generous friend. He is also showing a complete disregard for isolation practices during the pandemic. NBA players were supposed to quarantine at home this week ahead of their return to camp while Harden was partying.
James Harden gifted Lil Baby a Prada bag, honey buns, $100K cash and a Richard Mille watch for his birthday pic.twitter.com/vMlvGqabsL— NBA Central (@TheNBACentral) December 4, 2020
It’s not like Harden is even trying to hide it, as he’s posted his own photos all over social media.
While most NBA fans are left wondering what exactly Harden is doing right now, his own mother posted on Instagram that her son is “doing what’s best for his career.”
Monja Willis, James Harden's mother, speaks out on Instagram:— Alec Sturm (@alec_sturm) December 7, 2020
"He is doing the best for his career...He [is] ask[ing] for a chance to get a ring [and] that's it." pic.twitter.com/CrMvAZ9mE6
No one should be surprised that Harden doesn’t want to be in Houston. He already turned down a two-year, $103 million extension last month that would have made him the first player in NBA history to earn $50 million annually. For a player that’s already 31 years old, there’s no guarantee that type of future money is going to be on the table when he hits the open market. He has to be serious about wanting to move on from the Rockets right now to turn down that offer.
The rumor is that Harden wants to join Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn, but he’s still under contract for this season and next season before he can opt out. No, Harden isn’t the first NBA player to demand a trade while under contract. Requesting a trade worked out pretty well for Anthony Davis and Butler. Harden sees that even if he puts together another MVP worthy campaign, it won’t be enough to lift Houston to a championship. He also sees that time is running out on his prime.
Harden has caught a ton of criticism for coming up short in the playoffs, but the reality is his numbers are basically unassailable in most of his postseason runs. The man has finished first or second in MVP voting four of the last five seasons heading into last year, when he placed third. He’s one of the greatest shooting guards of all-time any way you look at it.
If the criticism for Harden’s on-court play is mostly overblown, he deserves to catch heat for what he’s doing right now. It’s not just that he’s partying while his teammates are at work, it’s that he’s partying in the middle of a global pandemic.
There’s no bubble to save the NBA from positive tests this season. Players are going to be traveling city-to-city, potentially helping spread the virus to workers along the way. Harden is not just putting himself at risk as he disregards the rules, he’s putting everyone he comes in contact with at risk, too. The virus continues to kill people around the world. Timberwolves star Karl-Anthony Towns has lost seven family members to the virus, including his mother.
We’ve seen an NFL team play a game without any quarterbacks because of Covid. We’ve seen college basketball cancel the biggest game on the regular season schedule because of Covid. If this NBA season is going to work, everyone needs to do their part. Now one of the highest-profile players alive is showing a clear disregard for the rules.
Harden clearly doesn’t care what the Rockets think of him. He also clearly doesn’t care about CDC guidelines or the NBA’s quarantine protocols. Right now, it sure seems like Harden doesn’t care about this season at all as long he’s still in Houston.