In his first news conference with the Los Angeles Clippers, James Harden delivered exactly what he promised.
The former MVP spoke to the media three days after the long-awaited trade that brought him here from the Philadelphia 76ers about the circumstances that led to his trade demand and what he intends for moving forward. As one might expect, he had a lot to say about Philly’s leadership.
After describing himself as “very elite as an individual” but also being great in a team context, Harden went on the attack against the Sixers head office, claiming he gave up $26 million to play for the organization and planned to retire there until they changed their minds, claiming “they didn’t want me.”
The collapse in Harden’s relationship with Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey dominated coverage of his requests to leave the organization, most notably when he stood in front of a microphone in China and declared, “Daryl Morey is a liar.” According to another source on Wednesday, Harden has no intentions to speak with him again.
Harden stepped up the language even more on Thursday, referring to his tenure with the Sixers as “being on a leash.”
“Philly [was] just changing my role because I know I can give more and do more, but to be honest, it’s like being on a leash.”
Like, I knew that in order for us to go where we wanted to go, I needed to be at my best offensively, whether it’s facilitating or scoring the basketball, and Joel [Embiid] needed to be as well.
That was never an option for me. “I believe it all contributes to where I am today.”
Given that Harden led the NBA in assists last season and was a key component of the Sixers’ offense, it’s easy to dismiss that comment, but he also had his lowest usage rate since 2012 (thanks, no doubt, to the presence of league MVP Joel Embiid).
When pressed to elaborate on the leash line, Harden stated that it was more about talking with his coach than real usage on the floor, while also dropping the day’s most widely shared quote:
“I don’t mean to shoot the basketball every time I’m on a leash.” I mean, I think the game and I’m a creator on the court, so if I have a voice to say, ‘Hey Coach, I see this, what do you think about this?’ then everything is fine. Someone who believes in me and recognizes that I am not a system player, but rather a system.
All I really want is someone who can have that conversation with me, comprehend and go forward, figure out and make modifications on the fly during games. It’s not about me making a basket… I’ve already done it.”
Harden isn’t the first to call out former Sixers coach Doc Rivers’ in-game changes.
Naturally, the “I’m not a system player, I am a system” line became the conference’s most viral moment, as many individuals eager to depict Harden as the ball-dominant team disruptor latched on it as proof he hadn’t changed. Maybe he hasn’t, but the reaction seemed to validate Harden’s earlier statement: “You’re always going to take something out of what I say and make it into a different story.”
According to The Athletic’s Law Murray, Harden will practice with the Clippers on Friday and will make his debut Monday in a road game against the New York Knicks.