Rival NBA teams apparently didn't want Superman to draw that conclusion. According to Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, competing sales pitches from other organizations included slam sessions at the expense of his bearded teammate:
Morey doesn't forget it, and it became understandably difficult for him to separate the professional posturing with what became increasingly nasty, personal vitriol. From Golden State to Dallas to the Los Angeles Lakers, there were pockets of people taking turns calling Harden a selfish player, a bad teammate, a non-leader. Harden would never pass the ball to Howard, they told him. They'd never win together.
In the end, Howard disregarded the criticism being hurled Harden's way and joined the Rockets anyway, a fortunate occurrence when you consider how impressionable he has always been. It was he, after all, who felt the Orlando Magic blackmailed him into signing an opt-in clause in 2012.
The things being said about Harden were pretty brutal, too. If Howard had bought into what other suitors were slinging, he might not be a member of the Rockets today.
"In one of them, we know a team tried to portray the fact [to Howard] that James was the same as Kobe," general manager Daryl Morey told Woj. "It kind of blew my mind. I mean, you're saying the fact that he's like one of the greatest players ever is actually an insult?"
Truthfully, it could have been. The marriage of Kobe and Howard didn't quite pan out. Initially projected as a title favorite, the Los Angeles Lakers scraped only 45 wins, limping their way into the playoffs.
Once the offseason rolled around, Howard reportedly told the Lakers that Kobe would need to be amnestied for him to return, the thought being he didn't want to play alongside him for another few years.
Howard's disdain for playing with Kobe makes those comparisons valid insults. The Black Mamba has always been portrayed as a ball-dominating scoring machine who cares about himself and winning more than his teammates. Depicting Harden as his protege, without the rings, could have inflicted some serious damage.
I can already picture Mark Cuban showing Howard into the Dallas Mavericks' board room, wallpapered with the oversized faces of Kobe and Harden, an "equals" symbol connecting the two. There would have been a Kobe and Harden dartboard, mugs with giant X's through their faces and a clean-shaven, anti-beard movement implemented for the occasion as well.
As for what the Golden State Warriors would have done, I'm not really sure. Mark Jackson seems too straightforward for that type of nonsense. Golden State's contingent would have simply pointed to their trio of baby-faced assassins—Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes—while Ke$ha's "C'Mon" played in the background.
Those Lakers, I can't imagine them calling Harden selfish or comparing him to Kobe. That would have been counterproductive (and hysterical). Odds are, they seriously hoped Kobe teaching Howard how to win better than Harden could was enough.
"In the end, that was one of the main ways teams were trying to get Dwight to not come to Houston," Morey told Woj of rivaling franchises bashing Harden.
Whatever malicious stops they pulled out, they weren't enough. Maybe next summer, Morey can teach his peers how to properly woo a superstar.