How Bitter James Harden Is Showing OKC Thunder What They're Missing
It's actually only been a little over a week since the Oklahoma City Thunder shipped James Harden to Houston in order to keep their payroll under control and avoid paying huge luxury tax penalties over the course of the next few seasons.
In just over a week we've seen Harden completely unleash on the competition, scoring 37 points in Houston's opener against Detroit, followed by the highest-scoring game of the season so far with 45 against Atlanta and 27 against Portland.
Houston is 2-1, Oklahoma City is 1-2.
In that short amount of time, Harden has emerged as the league's leading scorer, averaging over 35 points per game (nearly ten points more than second place Kobe Bryant averages), including a solid six assists and six rebounds.
There's a lot of fun surrounding the duo of Harden and Jeremy Lin, and somehow they're already being called the best backcourt in the NBA. That's pretty high praise alongside duos of Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, Ty Lawson and Andre Iguodala, Deron Wililams and Joe Johnson, and Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, among others. A lot of people may differ on that notion, but it's not a bad group of names to be included amongst.
It's already starting to look like the Houston Rockets could pull together a playoff run after preseason projections made it seem as if they were one of the worst teams in the Western Conference.
As if that weren't enough, it seems like this Rockets team is so aided by Harden that he's helping the contracts given to both Lin and Omer Asik make more sense. He's not the only reason they're winning, but he's a huge part of why the entire team looks as good as it does.
So is there a big explanation behind all this? Is it just a hot streak of games that we've seen happen plenty of times in the past, or could it be something else?
Perhaps the fact that Lin and Harden weren't together on a team until days before the season started actually helped them. Teams had game-planned for one or the other, but there was never an inkling until it happened that Harden would end up a Rocket.
In that frame of thought there will be a sharp regression by the team as soon as the league figures out how to defend them and starts to crack down on the duo. Until that time comes, however, there's plenty of time to overreact and enjoy what the two are doing on the court.
It's always possible, however, that a lot of the hot start is due to the trade itself. That of course meaning that Harden felt slighted by the trade and wanted to show the Thunder why they were wrong to trade him.
In fact, Harden more or less said that himself in an interview with Yahoo! Sports:
"After everything we established – everything we had done – you give me an hour? This was one of the biggest decisions of my life. I wanted to go home and pray about it. It hurt me. It hurt."
Basically Harden was given an ultimatum, but he didn't get enough time to think about it. What would have happened if he would have been given another hour, or another day, to think about Oklahoma City's offer? It's entirely possible that he would have stayed.
The dude was one of their three best players, and one of the 40 best players in the NBA at that. He always cooperated and even came off the bench, sacrificing shots and minutes, at the very least he wanted to feel appreciated.
Now he's on a team that more or less agreed that he was a superstar talent, trading their leading scorer from a season ago, their top pick from the 2012 draft and two additional draft picks for the chance to give Harden a maximum contract.
Harden summed it up nicely, "It's a different opportunity for me here."
A different opportunity indeed. There's no more backseat for Harden, no third banana. In Houston it's Harden and then it's everybody else, and maybe that's the support he needed from a team.
Harden was great with Oklahoma City, but few people would look at what he did there and expect him to be able to lead a team right out of the gate like he's done.
There's a lot to Harden as a player and as a man, but it seems like there might be a chunk of him that wants to prove himself to the ones who passed on him more than anything else.
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