NEW YORK — James Harden is right.
The 76ers’ new point guard doesn’t have anything individually left to prove. Harden is one of 11 active players named to the NBA 75th Anniversary team. He’s also a future Hall of Famer who has already made over $268.6 million and counting in NBA salary alone.
Yet, some think Harden’s legacy is on the line because of what led to his being on his third team in 14 months.
By now, most basketball enthusiasts know Harden came to the Sixers in a Feb. 10 trade from the Brooklyn Nets after wanting out of the Big Apple. This came after Harden had already forced a trade from the Houston Rockets to the Nets on Jan. 13, 2021.
Seventeen days since the trade, his marriage with the Sixers is still in the honeymoon stage. Some critics think it’s just a matter of time before things go south like they did in Houston and Brooklyn.
But you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone inside the organization to say anything negative about him. So far, Harden has been a great addition to the team on and off the court.
In his Sixers’ debut on Friday, he and Joel Embiid showed they can be an unstoppable duo. Embiid finished with game highs of 34 points and 10 rebounds while Harden added 27 points, a game-high 12 assists and eight rebounds in the 133-102 road victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Harden and the Sixers (36-23) are expected to have similar success Sunday against the struggling New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. The Knicks (25-35) head into the 1 p.m. contest losers of four straight and 14 of their last 17 games.
New York will be without Derrick Rose (right ankle surgery), Kemba Walker (not with team), and Quentin Grimes (right patella subluxation).
Meanwhile, since the addition of Harden, the Eastern Conference third-place Sixers, on paper, have a chance to contend for an NBA title. That’s why he longed to play for them. The move was best for his career in regards to obtaining that goal and being happy.
So he said he and his teammates have something to prove in regards to the common goal of winning that championship trophy.
“I’ve been doing this thing for a very long time,” Harden said. “I don’t have [anything] to prove individually. As a unit, I think we have something to prove.”
And if we’re being serious, it’s hard to fault a player of his stature for wanting out of Houston last season. It is no longer the same successful franchise he helped to build during his eight-plus-season tenure there.
Mike D’Antonio announced he wouldn’t return as the Rockets coach on Sept. 13, 2020, the day after Houston lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference quarterfinals. That capped a string of eight straight Rockets postseason appearances.
A month later, Daryl Morey announced his resignation as the Rockets general manager, effective Nov. 1. Morey was hired as the Sixers’ president of basketball operations on Nov. 2.
With Houston on the verge of a rebuild, Harden wanted out and was eventually traded to Brooklyn on Jan. 13, 2021. The Rockets lost six of their first nine games and they went on to finish the 2020-21 season with a league-worst 17-55 record.
He went to Brooklyn to form a Big Three with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. But the trio played just 16 games together during Harden’s tenure there because of injuries and circumstances, which included the impact of Irving’s unvaccinated status. And the title-favored Nets are in a disappointing eighth place in the conference standings.
So while the optics probably weren’t in Harden’s favor, it’s hard to fault someone for wanting to be in a better situation. And let’s face it, at 32 years old, Harden’s time to win a title in his prime could be running out.
Plus, he’s accomplished basically everything except playing for an NBA title.
His accolades include being the 2018 MVP, being a three-time scoring champion, a seven-time All-NBA selection, a 10-time All-Star, and the 2012 Sixth Man of the Year.
So Harden’s right. The only thing left to prove is he and his Sixers teammates collectively winning an NBA title.