James Harden has done it all in his career — 2017-18 NBA MVP, league scoring champ the past three seasons, eight-time All-Star, seven-time all-NBA. He’s done everything but win a title and actually has reached the NBA Finals just once when he was teammates with Kevin Durant on the Thunder back in 2012.
So, in his introductory Nets news conference on Friday, he portrayed his decision to force the Rockets to trade him to the Nets to form a super-team with Durant and Kyrie Irving as the most important item left on his bucket list.
"It’s not a guarantee me coming to Brooklyn is guaranteeing a title," Harden said. "But I think giving myself a chance is very, very important. [When I was] younger . . . wanting to get paid and wanting to take care of my family was very, very important to me. Now, at this stage of my career, it’s giving myself a chance to do something that I haven’t yet accomplished in this league.
"That’s why I’m here in Brooklyn. It’s not going to be easy at all, but with this roster, this coaching staff and this organization, I think we have a legit chance."
When Mike D’Antoni left after four years as Rockets head coach to join first-time Nets head coach Steve Nash and when former Rockets general manager Daryl Morey left to take over the 76ers, Harden said it seemed the Rockets were in rebuilding mode. He has three years worth $133 million left on his contract, but when the Rockets offered a two-year extension worth $100 million, he turned it down because of his determination to leave.
"I just wanted to re-evaluate my career and the team and the direction that organization was going," Harden said. "I felt like we didn’t have a chance. At this point in my career, it’s not about money. It’s not about anything but having a chance reach that ultimate goal — winning at the highest level."
Harden acknowledged things could have gone sideways because the Rockets had other trade options. Despite a messy ending in Houston, Harden thanked the Rockets for dealing him to the Nets.
"As bad as it might have looked from the outside, internally they worked with me and made sure I ended up here," Harden said. "So, much credit to them and I’m very, very appreciative."
Asked why he focused on the Nets, Harden cited the superstar presence of Durant and Irving, the veteran experience of DeAndre Jordan and Jeff Green, a former teammate with the Rockets, plus the outside shooting of Joe Harris and Landry Shamet as examples of the Nets’ depth. Then, there was D’Antoni on a virtual all-star coaching staff headed by Hall of Fame point guard Nash.
"You just add that all together, and that’s a legit chance right there," Harden said. "It was a no-brainer for me."
Nash expects Harden to start against the Magic with Durant, but Irving, who sat out the past five games for personal reasons and hasn't played since Jan. 5, has been ruled out because of health and safety protocols.
"As far as the roles and the adaptations, I think they realize this is a great opportunity," Nash said. "They’re not going to be having the same volume [of shots] they’re used to, but I think they’re all excited by the opportunity to play with other great players and to figure it out, realizing that this gives them a chance to form an incredible team."
Harden has been a ball-dominant player, especially with the Rockets, but he plans to emphasize the playmaking aspect of his game to fit in. Describing how he expects to work things out with Durant and Irving, Harden said, "Chemistry. Sacrifice. We’re all elite. We’re all unselfish. We’re all willing passers. And we play basketball the right way, and that’s all that matters."