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Rockets head coach Ime Udoka speaks to James Harden free agency pursuit

Udoka downplayed his role in the Rockets pivoting away from Harden in free agency.

Houston Rockets Introduce Ime Udoka Press Conference Photo by Logan Riely/NBAE via Getty Images

One of the main undercurrents of this past NBA offseason was how the market for veteran guard James Harden was, and is, tepid, to put it kindly. This has been a problem for both the Philadelphia 76ers and Harden himself, who would like to amicably part ways after James opted in to his player option and immediately requested a trade earlier this summer. The opt-in seemed to come partly as a result of another presumed Harden free agency destination, Houston, going in another direction with former Toronto guard Fred VanVleet.

Previous reporting indicated that new Rockets head coach Ime Udoka was a factor in Houston shifting away from the pursuit of Harden. Yesterday, Stephen A. Smith suggested that Houston was turned off from Harden partially due to the 34-year-old’s expressed desire to win another scoring title.

Now, we know not to take everything Stephen A. says too seriously, but you can certainly imagine that being true, right?

In more substantive reporting we have an ESPN article today by Zach Lowe, covering Jalen Green and the Houston Rockets. In it, we get, I believe, the most direct response from Udoka so far on the whole Harden situation:

“VanVleet’s ability to work off the ball is one reason Houston’s decision-makers, including new head coach Ime Udoka, preferred VanVleet over a free agency reunion with Harden.

“Nothing against James,” Udoka told ESPN, “but Fred is just a better fit. I coached James in Brooklyn. He’s one of the smartest players I’ve ever been around. The words ‘Ime doesn’t want James’ never came out of my mouth. It was, ‘Let’s look at the best fit.’ If we want Jalen and the young guys to take the next steps, we need them to have the ball. As for me saying I don’t want James, that was never the case. It was about fit.”

Now, I’m sure Udoka never said, ‘Ime doesn’t want James,’ first and foremost because it would be weird to refer to himself in the third person in that manner. But I’m sure he arrived free of the nostalgia glasses worn by the Houston organization and reached the same conclusions as the rest of the league. Harden is now 34 years old, injuries are starting to crop up, he seems less than willing to cede on-court responsibilities to the degree that others in his position might be (which goes to the stuff about fit Udoka mentioned), and his off-the-court interests don’t exactly scream calming, veteran influence.

In other news, James Harden is at training camp with the Sixers and I’m sure everything will go really well. Trust the Process!

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