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James Harden, the perils of revisionist history and the value of receipts

Philadelphia 76ers Introduce James Harden

On January 15, 2021, two days after he was traded to the Nets in a package that included both young stars and seven draft picks and swaps, James Harden made it clear to the media over Zoom that Brooklyn was his first choice.

“They were on the top of my list,” Harden said, confirming all the rumors. “There were a few other teams involved as well and it could have got crazy. Credit to the Houston Rockets who were an unbelievable organization and worked with me. As bad as it looked from the outside, internally, they worked with me and they made sure I ended up here.”

“Top of the list,” he said. Not so, he said Tuesday in another press conference, this one with the 76ers logo in back of him.

“When I was going through everything I was going through in Houston, Philly was my first choice ... It just didn’t happen,” Harden told the media at a press conference in Camden, NJ, where the Sixers have their practice facility. “I don’t really want to get into the Brooklyn situation. I just knew for a very long time that this was a perfect fit...

“I wish it worked like that, But you know, organization, they [the Rockets] got to do what’s best for their team, present and future. So, it didn’t work like that. And I had to go to Brooklyn, which obviously we all know that could have been something special. But for whatever reason, it was for that.”

And of course, he did talk about Brooklyn, particularly about how Kyrie Irving’s vaccination status affected the Nets and him.

“Obviously, me and Kyrie are friends,” he said. “Whatever he was going through or still going through, that’s his personal preference, but it definitely did impact the team because originally, obviously, me, Kyrie and KD on the court and winning covers up a lot of that stuff but it was unfortunate that we played 16 games out of whatever it was, and it is what it is. But here in Philly is an opportunity that I’m looking forward to.

Harden, who won’t return to play till after the All-Star Break, spoke mainly about his new role in Philadelphia where indeed he has a lot of friends from his days in Houston. There’s GM Daryl Morey, who has now traded for him twice, once to Houston and once to Philadelphia; Tad Brown, the 76ers CEO; and Michael Rubin, the 76ers minority owner who according to reports out of Philly was the prime mover in getting the deal done. Not to mention Meek Mill, the rapper turned advocate for social justice.

“I’m happy,” Harden said. “The last year has been a lot of ups and downs, a lot of stress, but whatever. That’s in the past. I’m excited. I’m healthy, and it’s an opportunity of a lifetime.”

It could also be a payday of a lifetime, anybody’s lifetime in the NBA in fact. Although the Nets may have been just a bit squeamish about giving him a $270 million extension, including $61.7 million at age 37, Philly appears ready to sign the check. Harden said he will opt in to his $47.3 million contract for next season, the first step in getting things done.

And in Philadelphia, not everyone was happy with Harden’s “sidestepping.” Mike Sielski of the Inquirer, dismissed Harden’s commentary as self-serving. Picking up on Harden’s commentary about his exit from Houston, Sielski took off on the newest Sixer.

Everything I was going through. If by “everything,” Harden meant the conveyor belt of superstars who trundled into and out of Houston during his tenure, the multiple times he demanded or threatened to demand a trade, and his willingness to force the Rockets’ hand by ignoring COVID-19 protocols and generally appearing uninterested in playing for them anymore, then “going through” is a particularly nimble bit of verbal sidestepping.

Welcome to Philly media, James.

Did he dog it in Brooklyn to get a reunion with Morey, Brown, Rubin and Mill? Tracy McGrady talking about Harden on TNT Tuesday night said he too believed Harden originally wanted Philadelphia but added he thought Harden pulled a fast one in Brooklyn.

“We all know Philly was his first choice [last season] before he went to Brooklyn, so when things hit the fan he wanted out of there. He shut it down,” McGrady said on the NBA on TNT pregame show Tuesday. “He wasn’t hurt. He wasn’t hurt. He shut it down. Y’all think he’s hurt right now?”

A laughing Dwyane Wade responded: “No, you saw those stepbacks?”

“My point exactly,” McGrady said. “You don’t rehab a hammy by doing stepbacks.”

Oh yeah! Harden was on the bench Tuesday for that nationally televised game. His new team got bombed by Boston, losing by 48, its fourth loss in seven games.