James Harden’s comments after a Tuesday night loss to the Rockets were, well, damning. Harden kept things blunt:
James Harden says Rockets are "just not good enough … I love this city. I literally have done everything that I can. I mean, this situation is crazy. It’s something that I don’t think can be fixed."— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) January 13, 2021
It certainly seems as though that’s the icing on the cake. There’s no taking those words back. Harden can’t walk into practice after delivering the message that his teammates aren’t good enough for him. So, that leaves the Rockets in desperate need of a move. Before the season began, it was widely reported that Houston was willing to let the situation escalate to peak ugliness if it meant holding out for the best deal. That might’ve been the last shovel to the face that they could take. Now, it’s about repairing the locker room so that life can finally continue on in Houston. That repair will come in the form of addition by subtraction.
Less than a day later, it seems the whole saga is coming to a close. The Nets and Sixers are the finalists for Harden, according to Shams Charania and Sam Amick. The perennial MVP candidate is certainly an upgrade over what the Sixers currently have, save for Joel Embiid. But, is it really a no-brainer that Embiid would be in favor of a Harden trade?
“I got a goal. I want to win the championship, but I can’t do it alone. I need my teammates to be able to make it happen, to help me, too.”
After Tuesday’s epic victory over the short-handed Miami HEAT, a game that holds weight in the argument for the best game of Embiid’s career, the star big man made it clear that he needs his teammates to step up. “I got a goal. I want to win the championship,” Embiid said. “But I can’t do it alone. I need my teammates to be able to make it happen, to help me, too.”
Obviously, much had to go right the team to start 7-1. So, with two of the team’s top three scorers unable to play as they go through COVID protocol, Ben Simmons, Embiid’s star teammate, needed to carry the weight. The task didn’t seem too daunting, seeing as the HEAT were missing two of their best defenders. Simmons, albeit in return from a knee injury, responded with 5 points and 12 assists. He recorded more turnovers and fouls than points scored. In that context, it seems clear which teammate Embiid was referring to.
The Human Side
So, you have a franchise player asking for help when the team is short-handed. The Sixers have been a common mention in trade talks involving Harden. But, does that mean Embiid would want that particular move?
Harden’s lifestyle, especially in the context of a raging pandemic, is worrisome. The start of the Rockets’ season was delayed to a COVID case ignited by Harden’s activities off the court. While that may not be as much of a concern for a young athlete living alone, that isn’t the case for Embiid. Anne de Paula gave birth to the couple’s first child during this past offseason. Embiid has reiterated numerous times how having a son has changed his outlook on life and his mentality when playing basketball. When Seth Curry tested positive for the coronavirus and the Sixers were quarantined in New York, it was reported that Embiid would be living away from his family until he felt comfortable enough to be with them.
So, you have a disgruntled star who lives a very extroverted life, and a pandemic hasn’t changed his ways, either. You have a superstar whose voice will hold weight in franchise-altering conversations. That franchise player has a family that he clearly has at the top of his priority list. The introduction of Harden poses health risk to Embiid’s family, and that could have a significant impact on the quality of Embiid’s play and the chemistry he and Harden have on the court.
So, is it a guarantee that Embiid will be on board with potentially acquiring Harden in that context?
I suppose we’ll know soon.