NBA

James Harden: Winning a championship is all that matters to me

By Sports Desk July 18, 2022

James Harden made it clear this offseason that at this point in his career he cares more about having an opportunity to win an NBA championship than money. 

While his deal with the Philadelphia 76ers has yet to be finalised, Harden is expected to sign a two-year contract that will pay him $32million next season and includes a player option for 2023-24. That $32m salary is a steep discount after he declined his $47.4m player option for 2022-23. 

"I had conversations with [76ers president of basketball operation Daryl Morey], and it was explained how we could get better and what the market value was for certain players," Harden told Yahoo Sports. "I told Daryl to improve the roster, sign who we needed to sign and give me whatever is left over. 

"This is how bad I want to win. I want to compete for a championship. That's all that matters to me at this stage. I'm willing to take less to put us in position to accomplish that." 

The 32-year-old Harden has racked up plenty of personal accolades – NBA MVP, 10-time All-Star, three-time league scoring champion and NBA Sixth Man of the Year, to name a few. However, he has never won a title and only reached the NBA Finals once, in 2012 with the Oklahoma City Thunder. 

Following that NBA Finals appearance, Harden was traded to the Houston Rockets and became a superstar in the league. He was then dealt to the Brooklyn Nets in January 2021 to play alongside Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, but that experiment failed, and Harden was sent to Philadelphia last February. 

Harden averaged 21 points, 10.5 assists and 7.1 rebounds in 21 games after joining the 76ers. He then put up 18.6 points, 8.6 assists and 5.7 rebounds per game in the playoffs, where the 76ers lost to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference semifinals. 

Harden wound up appearing in 65 regular-season games overall in 2021-22, mostly due to hamstring issues. He averaged 22 points, 10.3 assists and 7.7 rebounds in those 65 contests. 

"I don't really listen to what people are saying. I wasn't right last season and I still almost averaged a triple-double," Harden said. "If anybody else had those numbers, we'd be talking about them getting the max. 

"People were used to seeing me averaging 40, 30 points, and so they viewed it as a down year. I was in Philadelphia for a couple of months and I had to learn on the fly. That's just what it was. I'm in a good space physically and mentally right now, and I'm just looking forward to next season."

With a full season ahead of playing alongside perennial NBA MVP contender Joel Embiid, and with the additions of P.J. Tucker and Danuel House (thanks in part to Harden's paycut), the 76ers are expected to be a favourite in the East. They also added De'Anthony Melton in a trade with the Memphis Grizzlies. 

"I think we have a much deeper team," Harden said. "That's something we wanted to address. If you look at our team now, we're positioned to go a lot further. I like how we stack up with the rest of the top teams."

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    "Tyler is an impact multi-faceted player and we are excited to have him signed for the next five years," Heat president Pat Riley said.  

    "His improvement every year since we drafted him has led to this day. We believe he will continue to get better."

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    He averaged 13.5 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.2 assists in 2019-20 to earn second-team All-Rookie honours. 

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    Durant refused to expound on the rumours that he also requested the firings of head coach Steve Nash and general manager Sean Marks following the Nets’ disappointing and injury-plagued 2021-22 season.

    "There’s a lot of (stuff) that was inaccurate," he said. "But it’s like I don’t want to go through it right now."

    Nash also said earlier this week that he didn’t entirely believe the reports that Durant had asked for his ousting.

    "I never thought that was 100 per cent," he said. "It’s not black and white like that, so there was a lot of factors. A lot of things behind the scenes. A lot of things that are reported are not 100 per cent accurate. So you get fragmented bits of truth. You get things that are flat out not true. It happens. So I never really got caught up in all that stuff.”

    With his differences behind him, Durant said he’s eagerly awaiting the new season and the chance for the Nets to erase the memory of a turbulent 2021-22 campaign that saw the franchise trade disgruntled All-Star James Harden midseason and had Kyrie Irving limited to just 29 games, in large part due to New York City’s vaccination requirement that prevented the star point guard from playing most of the team’s home games.

    The Nets also head into 2022-23 with a healthy Ben Simmons, the key player Brooklyn received from the Philadelphia 76ers in the Harden trade. The three-time All-Star has yet to appear in a game with the Nets and missed all of last season due to a lingering feud with his former team and a back injury that later required surgery.

    "When you look at the grand scheme of things, we haven’t been healthy at all for two years," Durant said. "Each playoffs we didn’t have major guys, (they) miss minutes. Not just role players, but guys that make a lot of money.

    "When you got $50 million dollars on your bench this last playoffs with Joe [Harris] and Ben and then the playoffs before that, I want to see what our team looks like in full, with guys being healthy, with us having a little bit of continuity. So we’ll see what happens."

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