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Is James Harden Becoming More of a Detriment than Kyrie Irving?


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As the 2023-24 NBA season dawns, one thing has become abundantly clear: James Harden is not only taking after Kyrie Irving’s antics, he is exceeding him in the detriment he brings to the franchises he plays for.

Harden’s most recent incident, leaving the Philadelphia 76ers to serve a “personal matter” less than 10 days before the tip-off of the 2023-24 NBA season, is simply the latest on an ever compiling list of the former MVP abandoning franchises he had recently committed to. Deserting one team is one thing, but carrying out the same act three times in as many years is frankly ridiculous.

After one of the greatest scoring stretches in NBA history but no championship to show for it, James Harden forced his way out of Houston, showing up to practice for the 2020-21 season extremely out of shape. Despite being unprecedented from Harden, the incident was excused by many. This was not the first time the NBA had seen a superstar want a scenery change after failing to get a ring, as box office talents like LeBron James and Kobe Bryant had previously done the same.

After getting traded to one of his two desired destinations, teaming up with all-stars Irving and Kevin Durant with the Brooklyn Nets, Harden was seemingly rejuvenated, contributing majorly to a team that barely fell short in a nerve-wracking seven game slugfest with the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks. Even then, Harden began to conflict with teammates and seemed discontented. By the middle of the following season, Harden was explicitly unhappy, his numbers took a dip, he began missing games with a calf injury, and within a month, he had been shipped to his new destination of choice, the Philadelphia 76ers.

Many fans thought Philadelphia would be his long-term home, as Harden went as far as to even take a discount ahead of last season to create more cap space to sign better depth pieces like veteran winger P.J. Tucker. "The Beard" turned back the clock last season, returning to his Houston form at times, and came up clutch in multiple instances during the heated second round series with the Celtics. Despite this, the Sixers fell short. And just as was the case with his previous two teams, Harden wanted out, refusing to sign a long-term contract, publicly calling General Manager Daryl Morey a “liar,” and most recently, not showing up for practice in the days leading up to the new season.

At this point, even if he isn’t a conspiracy theorist or an anti-vaxxer, it’s hard to not see the parallels between Harden and his former Brooklyn teammate. But there are a couple distinct differences that actually play in Irving’s favor. For starters, he backs up his antics with his prolific play. Irving does have his ‘diva moments,’ refusing to hit the hardwood at times for a variety of reasons, but when he’s on the court, he gives maximum effort. It’s easy to forget that last season, just before he and Kevin Durant were traded, Irving and the Nets were playing some of their best basketball of that entire era, winning 16 of 20 games before Durant’s injury. Juxtaposing this with James Harden, "the Beard" becomes lethargic and a net negative on the court when he isn’t bought in. Plus, despite his fringe views, Kyrie Irving has maintained a fan base. From all indications that I’ve seen, Harden’s popularity has substantially dwindled as he asks out of more and more franchises.

Could things be resolved? Absolutely. Not to mention Harden still clearly has more left in the tank after last season’s postseason performance. But as of now, the shenanigans have just continued to pile up, making one of the NBA's most recognizable stars arguably its biggest albatross.


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