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James Harden shows vulnerability, talks legacy in extensive piece

Yaron Weitzman of Fox Sports got a rare interview with James Harden and the Sixers’ star guard opened up.

Golden State Warriors v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

Last week James Harden gave an extended and semi-rare interview to Yaron Weitzman of Fox Sports. In case you missed it, go give that a read, since there’s some great stuff in that one:

Weitzman got a normally talk plenty, yet say little dude like Harden to share a bit of his thoughts on his own legacy, what’s missing on his resume, thoughts on how things played out in Brooklyn, and more.

One thing we don’t often get a glimpse of is Harden’s vulnerable side. There was an anecdote in the piece about how hard the Sixers’ loss to the Miami Heat in the second round of last year‘s playoffs hit him. Apparently he didn’t want to be around some of his close friends for a time.

“He was broken,” one friend of Harden’s said. “It was bad. He was really hurting,” the piece reveals.

It also bothered him a lot (as you might have guessed or already heard him talk about back on Sixers media day) how difficult it was for him to deal with the hamstring injuries he’s battled the last two seasons.

Per Weitzman, Harden shared the following:

“The whole two years was a low point. I’ve never really had to deal with something like that,” Harden told me recently. “My body, mentally, physically … It was a lot going on. I mean, basketball is everything to me....It was time to get back to being James Harden....I’m one of the people that changed the game of basketball,” he continued. “Honestly, the only thing that I’m missing is a championship.”

Harden is right. He is one of the players that changed the game of basketball as we know it. In conjunction with former Rockets owner Leslie Alexander, who empowered stats guys like former Rockets executives Daryl Morey and Sam Hinkie, and of course coaches like Kevin McHale and Mike D’Antoni, Harden modeled the way towards one of the most efficient ways to play the game. Between what Steph Curry was doing in Golden State, and what Harden was doing in Houston, that’s much of what many of us mean when we say things like “the three-point revolution.”

Occasionally, it gets borderline preposterous how much criticism he gets relative to his place in the all-time pantheon of legends. Harden is one of the greatest offensive players in history. Period. Yes, in his peak, he’s right there with Kobe on that end of the floor. And yes, we’d see him quite differently if he’d spent more time with a Shaq or a Pau. Heck, what if the Thunder didn’t get fleeced so badly by Morey? He might have six rings playing alongside Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook for his career.

Instead, Harden’s Rockets teams looked to shoot more long balls, free throws and layups or dunks than opponents, all while causing retired ‘90’s stars to collectively roll in their proverbial graves as they also limited midrange jumpers. People whined about it ad nauseum, all while many of the smartest teams in the league scrambled to adopt the practices. He mastered the pick-and-roll with Clint Capela, and he took the perimeter isolation game to near-Michael Jordan caliber levels; all while rocketing up the all-time assists leaders list despite rumors among casuals he’s not a willing passer.

Nowadays it’s common knowledge among even the worst teams in the league to hunt threes and dunks. And the NBA in general, is a more efficient place partly because of Harden’s illustrious tenure in H-Town.

All that of course makes it a little bit ironic or fun that Harden in his later years is now turning to the midrange more as a 76er. Hopefully he’s got another iteration in his bag to stymie defenses with. One that he didn’t rely on for the majority of his career in the past. To his credit, even at age 33, Harden is evolving.

I’ve written quite a bit this season that the Sixers need to load manage the now 33-year-old 10-time All-Star, three-time scoring champ, and former league MVP. But the piece by Weitzman includes a quote from a friend of Harden, who shares some insight into why Harden may not be super amenable to sitting on the bench.

“He felt like he let his teammates down by being hurt,” [manager and long time friend Troy] Payne said. “In the past, he’d been annoyed at other people for taking games off, and his thing was always, ‘I don’t take games off, I don’t miss games.’ This was something he’d never dealt with before.”

Hopefully, the Sixers can convince him that playing less will ultimately be more, and his best shot at a ring.

And of course, you want some dirt on how things played out in Brooklyn. There was that too:

“I don’t mean to, like, just down talk to anybody or whatever. It was just, there was no structure and even superstars, they need structure. That’s what allows us to be the best players and leaders for our respective organizations....I just feel like,” Harden continued, “internally, things weren’t what I expected when I was trying to get traded there. I think everybody knows that. And I knew people were going to talk and say, ‘You quit’ and all that stuff, but then the following summer, the other superstar there [Durant] wanted to leave. So it’s like: Am I still the quitter?”

I won’t spoil anymore for you. But I agree with James. The only thing missing on his resume is a ring. Most fans would probably give the nod to guys like Dirk Nowitzki or Dwyane Wade on the All-Time list because they’ve won rings. But were either actually better than The Beard? I’m not so sure. If we’re drafting HOFers for random, unknown rosters, I’d probably take him over those two.

But if he finally gets one title, he’ll silence all those critics who’d claim he fell short in the playoffs too many times to be up there on the shooting guard Rushmore.

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