"In Houston, James would complain about everything to the team CEO (Tad Brown). He's gotten high-level guys traded. The Rockets gave him too much control. But in Brooklyn, he's not making it about himself. He's been very humble and gracious, making plays for others. And he's done a phenomenal job keeping himself in check."
The details don't come as much of a surprise because that has become the broader narrative around Harden's eight-plus seasons with the Rockets.
The nine-time All-Star didn't mesh with Dwight Howard, who opted out of his contract with Houston in 2016.
Chris Paul arrived a year later. The Rockets were one win away from the NBA Finals in the 2018 playoffs and generally had a good thing going with the Harden-Paul partnership. But their relationship soured in 2019, which led the team to trade Paul to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Russell Westbrook.
The thought was that Harden and Westbrook's friendship would stave off what the Rockets experienced with Paul on the roster. Instead, it took just one season for things to fall apart.
Multiple reports shared a peek behind the curtain to explain the power dynamic between Harden and the Rockets.
"We knew who the boss of the organization was," a former Rockets assistant coach said to ESPN's Tim MacMahon. "That's just part of what the deal was when you go to Houston. The players, coaches, GM, owner all know.
"I don't blame James. I blame the organization. It's not his fault. He did what they allowed him to do."
The Nets had an entirely different structure in place when Harden arrived after Brooklyn had built its future around Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Perhaps the 2017-18 MVP would supersede Irving, but Durant will likely always be the guy at the top of the food chain.
Harden has settled perfectly into the role so far. He's averaging 25.5 points, 11.4 assists and 8.7 rebounds through 23 games with Brooklyn.
As a result, the Nets are the favorites on FanDuel to win the Eastern Conference (+130) and second favorites (+300) behind the Los Angeles Lakers (+280) in the NBA championship race.
While Steve Nash's squad looks strong right now, the Los Angeles Clippers' collapse last year is a strong reminder the playoffs will be the true test of a contender's title credentials, though.
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