James Harden Hopes He's 'Received with Love' by Rockets Fans in Return with Nets

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistMarch 3, 2021

Brooklyn Nets' James Harden runs up the court during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the San Antonio Spurs, Monday, March 1, 2021, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Darren Abate)
Darren Abate/Associated Press

Brooklyn Nets guard James Harden said Tuesday that he is hopeful Houston Rockets fans will give him a positive reaction when the Nets face the Rockets in Houston on Wednesday night.

Harden told ESPN's Malika Andrews"The love and the appreciation that I've given to that city and that I still give to that city, I'm hoping that the favor can be returned."

Harden added that he hopes to be "received with love." 

Wednesday will mark Harden's first game against his former team since Houston traded him to Brooklyn as part of a four-team deal in January.

Harden, 31, spent parts of nine seasons with the Rockets before rejecting a contract extension and essentially forcing Houston's hand in the form of a trade.

With regard to his time in Houston, Harden said:

"I thought I would never leave that franchise. I thought I was going to be in Houston, obviously, for the rest of my career. Things happened. I've got different goals, and I've seen a different vision for myself and my career and my family.

"Like I said, it doesn't change the fact of how I feel about the city. But it just didn't go as well—as smooth—as I planned. The communication between myself and the front office got a little shaky. And now I look back at it and I see these other scenarios, other situations that are happening, specifically around other players that are in Houston, in different sports. And their transition is going very smooth. And I would've hoped for mine to go that smooth, but it didn't. I am where I am now."

Harden was as good as almost any player in the league during his time with Rockets, being named an All-Star in each of his eight full seasons with the franchise.

In 621 regular-season games as a member of the Rockets, Harden averaged 29.6 points, 7.7 assists and 6.0 rebounds per game, and he helped lead the Rockets to the playoffs in each season as well.

Harden led the league in scoring in three straight seasons from 2017-18 through 2019-20, and he won the NBA MVP award in 2017-18.

While Harden's regular-season success is undeniable, the postseason has been a different story throughout his career.

Harden has yet to win a championship in 12 NBA seasons. He reached the NBA Finals once with the Oklahoma City Thunder as a supporting-cast member alongside Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, and he never made it past the Western Conference Finals in Houston.

By orchestrating a trade to Brooklyn, Harden is looking to finally get over that hump and become an NBA champion.

With Harden, Durant and Kyrie Irving leading the way, the Nets own the second-best record in the Eastern Conference currently at 23-13, and they continue to look like the team to beat in the conference.

Meanwhile, the Rockets have experienced a significant fall from grace without Harden, as their 11-22 record is the second-worst mark in the Western Conference.

The Rockets' Toyota Center can only be filled at partial capacity, but it will quickly become apparent Wednesday how Rockets fans feel about their former face of the franchise.