The intertwined legacies of James Harden & Daryl Morey

FILE – Philadelphia 76ers’ James Harden gestures during the first half of Game 3 of the team’s NBA basketball second-round playoff series against the Miami Heat, May 6, 2022, in Philadelphia. A person familiar with the situation said Harden chose not to exercise his $47.4 million option for next season and will become a free agent — but with no designs on leaving Philadelphia. Harden made the decision to allow the 76ers the flexibility they need to sign other players this summer, said the person who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because neither side confirmed those plans publicly. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File)

James Harden and Daryl Morey are each basketball geniuses in their own respective ways. They also have been reliant on each other to grow into the stars in the positions that they have each become. The 2022-23 season will have a major impact on the legacies of both guys and they will be counting on each other more than ever.

Daryl Morey:

With a background based in data and analytics, Daryl Morey was incredibly influential in the NBA’s transition into advanced stats. His unique mindset strayed from the norm and he worked his way up the NBA food chain due to his success. Morey began his front office career with the Boston Celtics where he served as the senior vice president of operations for roughly four years. The Northwestern graduate left Boston to join the Houston Rockets in 2006 where he was initially named assistant general manager. Morey took over as GM in 2007 and was the first general manager to have a full-time statistical and data analytics background.

The Rockets had some fair success with the teams headlined by Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady when Morey first took over. Houston had a winning record each season Morey was GM. However, after missing the playoffs in the 2009-10, 2010-11, and 2011-12 seasons it was clear the franchise was in need of a superstar.

Daryl Morey made a franchise-altering and potentially career-threating move in 2012 when he traded for James Harden. With Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, and James Harden each primed for major paydays, the OKC Thunder were forced to make a decision. While Harden showed some impressive flashes in his three seasons with the Thunder, he was far from the superstar that is seen now. Morey took the risk and traded Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, and two first-round picks in exchange for the regining Sixth Man of the Year. While this may not seem like a massive package based on the lucrative deals that have been seen in recent years this was a risky package at the time… and Morey was rewarded greatly.

James Harden

After bring a consensus All-American and Pac-12 Player of the Year at Arizona State, James Harden was drafted with the 3rd overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft. The Oklahoma City Thunder had just recently become a franchise after changing names and locations from their identity as the Seattle Supersonics. They had several disappointing seasons prior to the move and were in the midst of loading up on young talent. Oklahoma City formed one of the most impressive young cores in NBA history but lacked the bankroll to maintain them.

In his three years with the franchise James Harden started just 7 games. While this is far from an indication of his impact, the lack of touches and available on-ball action limited Harden from being the superstar he became in later years. During his final season in OKC, he averaged 16.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 3.7 assists. He also shot 49.1% from the field (which was the highest mark of his entire career) and 39% on three-point attempts. The then 22-year-old earned the Sixth Man of the Year Award for his performance and the Thunder made it all the way to the NBA Finals where they were defeated by the Miami Heat.

Upon being traded to Rockets, James Harden fully flourished. In his first season in Houston, he saw his stats grow to 25.9 points, 5.8 assists, and 4.9 rebounds. He made his first all-star game and snapped the streak of postseason absences by leading to the team to a 45-37 record. Harden embraced the “Moreyball” beliefs by eliminating the midrange areas of his game to focus on more statistically efficient shots on the court.

Prioritizing three-pointers, lay-ups and dunks, and getting to the free throw line he became one of the greatest scorers in the history of basketball. Harden led the NBA in scoring in 2017-18, 2018-19, and 2019-20 and eclipsed 30 points per game each season. His 36.1 points per game in the 2018-19 season is the 7th most points per game ever in an NBA season which trails only Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain who eclipsed this number six times in his career.

Perhaps even more impressive than his scoring was the way James Harden developed as a playmaker. The attention he demanded as a scorer opened up Harden’s ability as a passer. He led the NBA in assists per game with 11.2 in 2016-17 which made him one of seven players in NBA history to lead the league in both points and assists during their careeer.

Morey and Harden Reunited

While Harden and Morey were never able to secure a ring in Houston, the teams put together were much more impressive than they have been given credit. The Harden-led Rockets made the playoffs for eight consecutive seasons. Houston made it to the Conference Semifinals in five of these seasons and to the Western Conference Finals twice. The Rockets also took the future NBA champion Golden State Warriots to seven games in 2017-18 which is one of the most entertaining series in basketball history. James Harden also averaged 28.7 points, 6 assists, and 5.6 rebounds per game during this series.

Flashforward a few years and the duo is runited under new circumstances. Daryl Morey stepped down from his position with the Rockets and eventually made his way to Philadelphia. He successfully navigated one of the most distracting and complex situations in league history with the Ben Simmons saga, and made the same gamble he did roughly 10 years earlier. While Morey certainly did his due diligence on other players outside of Harden, it is clear how excited he was to reunite with the star. If there was any doubt on this you can see Morey’s emphatic hug upon James Harden’s intial arrival in Philadelphia.

The end goal of both James Harden and Daryl Morey is still to win a championship. They both clearly believe that the opprotunity with the Sixers is their best chance at this. Each guy has played a vital role in building the legacy of the other and this will continue to be the case in Philadelphia. You cannot fuly seperate one without aknowledging the importance of the other.

The 2022-23 season is set to be an especially important in their long-term legacies. James Harden has done everything possible to endear himself to the team and the fans including taking a massive paycut to help the team and seemingly puting a new focus on his hamstring rehab and offseason preparation. If James Harden can return to soemwhat close of the superstar player he once was he would clearly be the best player that Joel Embiid has ever played with. There is even an argument that the limited version of The Beard that was seen last year belongs in this conversation although Jimmy Butler would likley have something to say about that.

James Harden has played a total of just 33 games with the Sixers including the regular season and playoffs. It is difficult for a player to find his stride and fit within in offense in that short amount of time. This upcoming season is a much more realistic target for the team to fully connect and be ready to compete deep into the playoffs. While people may throw stones about Morey building the Rockets 2.0, it should not be fogotten that having a 7-footer who has come in second place in MVP voting the past two seasons certainly changes this equation.

The final chapters of Daryl Morey and James Harden’s legacies are still to be determined. However, it is clear they will be connected moving forward. Both guys have a chance to imortalize their legacy by bringing a championship to the Sixers organization and proving a lot of people wrong in the process.

AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File