James Harden is fast becoming an enigma in the NBA today. He is an ultra-talented offensive player who finished second in the MVP voting in the 2014-15 season, but he is also a walking vine of defensive lapses and, seemingly, a historically bad teammate.
Is it possible that the latter is throwing shade on the former? After the Houston Rockets man was omitted from all three of the end-of-season All-NBA teams, one has to wonder: What is making Harden so unappealing?
After leaving the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2012 as a role player, the 2012 Sixth Man of the Year took his talents to the Houston Rockets, a franchise in dire need of a leading star.
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Credit to general manager Daryl Morey for seeing the superstar potential in Harden, but what have the Rockets got for their sizable investment to the tune of $80 million over five years?
Houston have made the playoffs in all four of the seasons the 26-year-old Haden has been leading the side, but they have only progressed past the first round once.
Dwight Howard's arrival coincided with their run to the Conference Finals where they were dispatched by eventual champions, the Golden State Warriors, but the union of superstar center Howard and world-class shooting guard Harden should have bore more fruit than it ultimately did.
Howard, a former number one draft pick, decided not to pick up his player option for this forthcoming season and headed home to Atlanta in free agency instead. Upon his departure, he suggested that the relationship between Harden and himself played a role in limiting what Houston could achieve.
“It wasn’t as good as it needed to be for us to succeed, Howard said. "But, you know, looking back on it, there’s really nothing that we can do about it now. Talking about it amongst ourselves is great, but for myself, and I think for the Rockets, we all have to move on and let that chapter of all of our lives pass. I wish the relationship would have been a lot better, but throughout all the things that happened the last couple of years, I think it’s shaped and molded me into the player — the person — that I am today. It made me stronger.”
Harden may enjoy possession of the rock and total command of the offence, but the stats do not lie.
Last year he registered career-high averages in points (29), assists (7.5) and rebounds (6.1) and played and started in all 82 games, leading all players in the NBA for minutes last term.
Harden only finished second to Stephen Curry in points scored over the season, but the Rockets only managed to scrape into the playoffs on the final day of the season. For all his wonderful work, is it actually beneficial to the team?
Regardless, Kevin Durant believes that when you produce stat lines like that, you should be recognised.
"Nobody really appreciates what he does except for the players in our league," Durant said. "Everybody on the outside doesn't really appreciate what he brings. Anybody that can put up 29 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and not make the All-NBA team, that's like a sin to even think about not putting a guy like that on the All-NBA team.
"As a player and someone that played with him and a fan of the game I was (angry) because somebody is right here in front of you and you can't appreciate him. If he were to retire tomorrow, we would have so many stories and videos about how great he is, but he's here right now doing it. Appreciate what he brings."
Ty Lawson was an impressive point guard in the small market of Denver before he made his way to Houston last season. But, without being able to get his hands on the ball, he was waived only eight months later.
He should have been a fine addition to the Rockets, but with Harden around, he was the wrong addition.
There is no point having a 'Big 3' or anything like that in Houston. Harden is like an offensive juggernaut who might be unparalleled in the NBA all-around; he just needs support.
If the Rockets could fill out their roster with elite defenders around Harden, they might make some serious strides. But if they continue to seek players who will want to get their touches and make an impact on offense like Howard and Lawson did, the bad smell around Harden will only continue to fester.
At the end of the day, Harden might just be a victim of his own ability.