James Harden is back with the Houston Rockets, but the drama around his status with the team hasn’t abated.
The star made his preseason debut on Tuesday against the San Antonio Spurs, scoring 12 points on 3-of-10 shooting with 3 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 turnovers. It was Harden’s first time playing alongside Rockets newcomers John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins, and for all we know, it could be the last.
Harden’s reported trade request apparently remains intact, with his preferred destinations consisting of the Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia 76ers, Miami Heat and Milwaukee Bucks. To push for a trade, the 31-year-old has gone as far as reporting to Rockets training camp days late, with videos of him appearing to enjoy himself at a strip club circulating on social media.
It’s a supremely awkward situation, so it wasn’t much surprise that Harden declined to speak with reporters after Tuesday’s game, according to ESPN’s Tim MacMahon.
Harden has reportedly avoided questions about his trade request entirely, and even teammates have avoided bringing up the subject with him. The NBA reportedly hasn’t yet fined Harden for violating media access rules like it did with Kyrie Irving.
Rockets’ James Harden drama continues
Instead, Rockets head coach Stephen Silas and the teammates Harden is currently trying to leave were left to analyze Harden’s performance and maneuvering.
“He was good. He was good,” Silas said. “He’s obviously a great player and can do so many things on the floor, on and off the ball. Defensively, he has good hands, and makes plays and is smart. To have him out there was great.”
Wall, whom Harden is reportedly “unmoved and uninterested” in playing with, was diplomatic about Harden’s trade request:
John Wall on James Harden's desire to leave Houston: “I don’t try to ask him about that because that’s his personal business. All I worry about is what we can do to make this Rockets team the best that we can be while everybody is here and move forward with that.”
— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) December 16, 2020
Of course, none of that is what people were talking about on social media when it came to Harden. Before the game, an unflattering photo of Harden appearing to look several pounds heavier than his typical self started making the rounds.
It’s unclear just how reflective of reality the photo was; Harden looked much slimmer in videos of him shooting and running on the floor, but the jokes were simply too easy to write. A player holding out from training camp, getting seen at clubs and trying to force a trade suddenly looking overweight makes for a fun narrative on Twitter even as that same player is looking quick enough on live television.
Such drama figures to only continue as long as Harden is in Houston, barring a massive change of heart.
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