James Harden continues to play with fire regarding his legacy

FILE – Philadelphia 76ers’ James Harden plays during an NBA basketball game against the Denver Nuggets, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023, in Philadelphia. Harden appears determined to sever ties with the Philadelphia 76ers after the star guard called team president Daryl Morey a liar at a promotional event at China. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton, File)

Ten All-Star appearances, seven AlI-NBA selections, three scoring titles, two assist times, an MVP, and a spot on the NBA’s top 75 All-Time list while also being one of 11 active players named to said list. It’s been quite the career for James Harden, especially when one considers his 85 career playoff wins and four Western Conference Finals appearances.

Despite the incredible list of accomplishments and achievements he’s enjoyed, James Harden also has a fair amount of red in his ledger. Several seasons of uneven postseason performances have long been the primary source of this, but since his time in Houston began to close, there have only been more occurrences that have continued to affect his legacy adversely.

Postseason foibles aside, he also has become known for putting the screws to teams when he decides he’s no longer interested in playing for them; his antics in both Houston and Brooklyn are well-documented. Now, for the third time in his career, James Harden has set into motion events that will, if all goes according to his plans, allow him to direct his destiny regardless of his contract.

How did we get here?

FILE – Philadelphia 76ers’ James Harden reacts during Game 2 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Monday, April 18, 2022, in Philadelphia. Harden appears determined to sever ties with the Philadelphia 76ers after the star guard called team president Daryl Morey a liar at a promotional event at China. Harden’s comments, video of which surfaced Monday, Aug. 14, 2023, came almost seven weeks after he picked up his $35.6 million option with the 76ers for this season and then promptly said he wanted to be traded.(AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File)

After leaking a desire to return to Houston, performing unevenly in the postseason once again, threatening the team with an ultimatum regarding their current head coach and Harden’s pending free agency, opting into his contract with the Sixers only to request a trade immediately, and now publicly making disparaging remarks about the team’s president, James Harden has had himself quite the 2023.

It’s a bold strategy, one that does not appear to be working the way that its grand architect initially envisioned; the crucial factor being the lack of interest from the Houston Rockets. Once that potential well dried up, the threat of leaving was effectively nullified, allowing the Sixers to approach Harden’s free agency as they saw fit, much to Harden’s chagrin.

It’s clear that Harden has a certain sense of his own worth. Unfortunately for him, it does not appear to be a view shared by the Sixers, nor any team in the NBA, based on the lack of interest surrounding the soon-to-be 34-year-old. While a fair amount of the lack of interest stems from his age and a decline in play, it seems clear there are other factors at play.

Are many-if not most-of Harden’s wounds in regard to this situation self-inflicted? Without a doubt. But he’s also not the only party at fault.

Is Daryl Morey to blame?

Sixers, Harden
Philadelphia 76ers’ Daryl Morey speaks during a news conference at the NBA basketball team’s training facility, Wednesday, May 17, 2023, in Camden, N.J. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

In part, yes.

While Morey did not force Harden to opt into his deal with the Sixers, he has enabled the star guard to act in this manner under multiple franchises. Morey has given Harden

There also remains, though it has yet to be proven, the small matter of the alleged promise, speculated by some to be related to last offseason’s free agency but more likely pertains to Morey trading Harden after he opted in, which has obviously not yet been fulfilled.

It’s important to remember the NBA did investigate the Sixers’ signing of James Harden and found no wrongdoing in his “pay cut”. It’s also fair to question why Harden’s camp felt the need to make known a potential desire to return to Houston if he in fact had a promised deal.

The larger malpractice though stems from the decision to bring in Harden in the first place. While at the time, many were wooed by the idea of bringing in the aging superstar, there was a clear risk, both on and off the court, as he was just coming off of his second straight tumultuous exit in his age 32 season after multiple lower body injuries.

The on-court risk is one that many could argue they’d still live with as Harden has continued to prove himself a useful player- albeit flawed, averaging 20 points and 10.7 assists last season. The larger and more dangerous risk that is his potential to cause another uproar from inside the organization is now being realized.

For one who is in a position to evaluate that risk, especially someone who has such a closer personal relationship with Harden, Daryl Morey should have calculated that more effectively before making the deal, and in that fact lies his culpability.

If anyone should have known what they were getting into in this situation, it’s Daryl Morey.

How will James Harden be remembered?

Philadelphia 76ers’ James Harden (1) greets fans after Game 4 in an NBA basketball Eastern Conference semifinals playoff series against the Boston Celtics, Sunday, May 7, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Despite what has dominated headlines in recent years, what should follow James Harden post career is his impact on the game of basketball. There have been few players who have impacted the game as he from an offensive perspective. How Harden will be remembered will largely be up to how he decides to finish his time in the league.

When it’s all said and done, James Harden should be remembered as one of the greatest ever to play the game. A top 30 talent in league history. A player who quite literally changed the sport. However, as the rate at which his antics and outbursts increase while his play declines, Harden risks tarnishing his legacy, allowing it to become the headline of his story, not his impact on the game of basketball.