Harden sees title chance, says he’ll sacrifice shots for it

Sports

Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) passes the ball against the Los Angeles Lakers during the third quarter of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2021, in Houston. (Troy Taormina/Pool Photo via AP)

NEW YORK (AP) — James Harden used his final interview in Houston to say that his team wasn’t good enough.

He has a whole new message now that he’s in Brooklyn.

Harden sees a roster that features Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, a coaching staff that includes a coach under whom he became the NBA’s leading scorer, and an opportunity to win the title he still lacks.

“You just add that all together, and it’s like, that’s a legit chance right there,” Harden said. “It was a no-brainer for me.”

The Nets acquired Harden from the Rockets on Thursday in a blockbuster deal that reunites him with Durant, his teammate in Oklahoma City. He could play for them Saturday if all the players in the deal, which also included Cleveland, pass their physicals in time.

The trade was completed just two days after Harden’s final game with the Rockets, a blowout loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. Following the game, Harden said: “We’re just not good enough … I love this city. I literally have done everything that I can.”

Harden said he wasn’t being disrespectful to his former teammates.

“I’ve been there for a very long time. I’ve been through all the ups and downs with that organization and I wasn’t disrespectful towards anyone,” he said. “I just made a comment that the team as a whole wasn’t good enough to compete for a title and at this stage of my career where I am now that’s what I would love.”

Harden praised the Rockets for working with him to get him to his favored destination and said he regretted his comments that he said were out of character for him.

“But the ultimate goal was to get somewhere where I can compete and here I am in Brooklyn,” he added.

Harden said as he evaluated the Rockets after their loss to the Lakers in the second round of the playoffs, he determined they weren’t good enough to beat the NBA’s best teams. General manager Daryl Morey and coach Mike D’Antoni weren’t going to return and Harden didn’t believe in the roster left behind.

D’Antoni ended up joining Steve Nash’s staff in Brooklyn and will help mold an offense that now features three of the NBA’s top scorers.

Harden, like Durant and Irving, will have to give up some of the offensive opportunities he’s had before.

“There’s still plenty of shots to go around, there’s still plenty of opportunities to make plays to go around, but it’s not going to be in the same format that it was before where they were largely the No. 1 focal point,” Nash said.

“It’s going to be much more spread between the three of them and they also have to make their other teammates better.”

Harden insists he can do that, saying his playmaking ability is underrated. The three-time scoring champion averaged about 20 shot attempts in Houston but also led the league in assists in 2016-17 and was averaging 10.4 in eight games this season.

“As long as I’m making my teammates better, it doesn’t matter about the points,” Harden said. “I think everybody knows that I can score the ball at a high clip and that’s where the sacrifice comes in at.”

Harden added that salary and status were more important earlier in his career, but said winning is at the top of his list now. He said he will do whatever it takes to do that in Brooklyn.

It might take, at least on some nights, going from being the main man to a No. 3 option. That seems OK with Harden — as long as the Nets are winning.

“I can’t predict how it’s going to go,” Harden said. “Kyrie might score 10 possessions in a row. KD might score 10 possessions in a row. Like, they’re more than capable of that and I’m fine with that because we’re going to be winning and it’s going to be good.”

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