Earlier this week, the Houston Rockets learned via the NBA Draft Lottery that they would have the fourth overall pick in the upcoming 2023 NBA Draft. A few weeks back, Ime Udoka was hired as the team’s new head coach, so there will be new faces on both the court and the sidelines in Houston next season.
Of course, Sixers fans are keeping a close eye on the situation in order to see if one of those new faces is especially bearded. Whether or not you want James Harden to leave Philadelphia, you can’t deny you’re interested in which jersey he’ll be wearing in the fall. As we all expected, he is reportedly intending to decline his player option this summer.
For those trying to read the tea leaves, The Athletic recently interviewed Udoka about where he sees the team heading next season. Some of his comments...do not sound like a man expecting to incorporate into the fold a 33-year-old hoping to have an offense geared around him. Here’s one especially relevant question and answer:
“Speaking of adding players, you guys head into the summer armed with nearly $60 million in cap space. But do you see free agency as more of a chance to give this team a facelift or simply adding pieces around a young core?
I would say more complementary, honestly. I mean you want to do both. You want to add veterans that aren’t just a voice only, you want them to be out there, play and push the guys. But, as I’ve said, regardless of free agency and the draft, we still have a group of guys we want to grow, and we’re looking for internal growth. More so than necessarily looking for an outside guy to try to save the day. We want these guys to grow, but we’re going to add pieces to push and compete for time and are out there to play to complement the young guys that we already have.”
“More complementary” certainly does not sound like Harden, since he apparently wants to move away from that characterization of his current game, however misguided it might be. Udoka seems to really be stressing the young guys and internal growth here, which is not a blinking arrow pointing Harden to Houston.
Here was another portion that would not connect the dots for a Beard-Rockets reunion.
“Does it help to have some defensive-minded players with experience on the roster like Jae’Sean Tate to help the others with coverages and playing better team defense?
You would love for a lot of it to come from the players, but that’s my job as the coach as well, to point those things out. Accountability comes from everywhere — myself, players on the court — but you have to walk the walk yourself before you can talk to other guys about it. We want our players to do it, but, at the same time, we’re probably going to add some veterans that help in those areas as well. It’s a total effort starting from me, not sweeping anything under the rug as far as that, but once it’s instilled it comes down to players not making the same mistakes over and over again. Getting better in those areas.”
Defensive accountability and bringing in veterans to help in that area? Uno does not fit the description.
Obviously, Udoka can’t comment on specific free agents at this juncture of the NBA calendar year, and ultimately, free agent decisions are up to ownership and the front office more so than the coaching staff. Still, in reading the interview, there are no hints at a Harden arrival or even an organization looking for the qualities an established, ball-dominant veteran would bring to the table. It could all be misdirection, but it doesn’t seem like Harden heading back to Houston is as large a possibility as we may have assumed recently. Whether that’s good, bad, or inconsequential is entirely up to you.