Long before Klay Thompson sustained a season-ending torn right Achilles’ tendon, the Warriors were among several NBA teams sensing the fading Houston Rockets would be open to major roster renovation.
In exploring avenues to get back into the thick of the championship chase, multiple league sources say the Warriors cast a wide hypothetical net that included James Harden. Though the vision of Harden moving into the Kevin Durant role was intriguing, the Warriors realized the return would be no better than a short-term gain while punching a hole in their future.
It’s becoming more likely that Harden will end up leaving Houston, as his desire to go to another team is so transparent that his next step might be, for the fun of it, dying an orange “Trade Me” message into his beard.
The Warriors won’t be among the interested teams, as they wisely have moved on from a passing thought that would have been an utter disaster.
This has little to do with Harden’s widely known tendency to, um, explore the nightlife. If he wants to star in a video that finds its way to social media and TMZ, he’s allowed. He’s 31 years old, has lots of cash and, hey, if he wants to drop a six-figure gift on Lil Baby, it’s his choice. How an athlete lives should be secondary to how he plays -- as long as it has no ill effect on it.
No, the bigger issue for the Warriors would have been trying to squeeze Harden, as comfortably entitled as any player in the league not named LeBron James, into a culture that demands accountability and schemes that require collaboration.
Do you really think Harden would subjugate his game the way KD did? The difference is that Durant was attracted to the Warriors and their style of play. After playing most of his career with the mercurial and often self-indulgent Russell Westbrook, he wanted to be part of a group that played smart, balletic basketball.
Harden, after eight years as the undisputed centerpiece, likely will be what he became during his time in Houston. His dependence on isolation and over-dribbling would undermine the movement-and-flow principles coach Steve Kerr and his staff have emphasized for six years and counting.
Curry would quietly seethe. Draymond Green would loudly, and justifiably, rant. Kerr would go bald within a week. President and general manager Bob Myers, who would have to accept responsibility for such a move, might require twice-daily therapy sessions.
Understand, Harden is a colossal offensive talent. Harden has every tool required to score, from the deep 3 to the dunk. He seems to have his own personal escorts to his home, also known as the free-throw line. Once upon a time, as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder, he was developing into the best Sixth Man in the NBA. He cooked backup defenders, tilting the floor in favor of his team.
Since being traded to Houston in October 2012 and shortly thereafter becoming the franchise player, Harden has been the league’s most disappointing player to wear, in the eyes of some, the term “superstar.”
Moreover, the Rockets have been the league’s most consistently disappointing postseason team, their collective throat closing annually, as if set by a timer.
As they’ve gone through three coaches and more than 100 player transactions, Harden has been the constant. The only constant.
After Harden’s first season in Houston ended with a first-round playoff ouster, the Rockets added seven-time All-Star and three-time Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard. After the third season of the Harden-Howard partnership ended with a 41-41 record and a five-game, first-round exit, general manager Daryl Morey gave Harden his wish. Howard was done in Houston, while Harden signed a four-year, $118 million contract extension.
The Rockets turned the team over completely over to Harden. Morey signed a parade of near-stars, stars and All-Stars to provide support. Eric Gordon came and stayed. Lou Williams and Ryan Anderson came and went. It wasn’t enough.
When that failed, Morey paired Harden with Chris Paul for two seasons, both of which ended with the Warriors, on their way to the Finals, kicking the Rockets out of the postseason and into the offseason.
The thought of him joining the Warriors might have been tantalizing, a brief moment of temporary lunacy within the franchise that died a quick and warranted death.
They’ll take the prudent road and ride with what they would have lost in the Harden deal, beginning with Andrew Wiggins, James Wiseman and the Minnesota Timberwolves' first-round pick in 2021.