Doc Rivers could see through James Harden’s motivations

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It’s becoming apparent that almost anything James Harden does is driven by how much good it does for James Harden. Remember when he declined a $47.6 million option and accepted $68 million over two years by signing a one-year deal with a player option for a second? That magnanimous sacrifice for the sake of the team was really just his way of trying to weasel into a more lucrative, long-term max contract.

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He said all the right things at the time to maintain the facade.

“I told Daryl to improve the roster, sign who we needed to sign, and give me whatever is left over,” Harden told Yahoo Sports last summer. “This is how bad I want to win. I want to compete for a championship. That’s all that matters to me at this stage. I’m willing to take less to put us in position to accomplish that.”

During a Wednesday appearance on The Dan Patrick Show, Harden’s former coach, Doc Rivers, added more background color on what fuels the Sixers’ enigmatic guard. According to Rivers who coached Harden for two seasons, the team-first version of Harden vanished after he was snubbed by the Commissioner as an All-Star replacement, after not being selected by his peers or fans.

“He would never say this, but in my gut, I thought it changed almost immediately,” Rivers told Patrick. “I remember about a game or two after that, he called me, and said, ‘Hey, I want to start playing with the second unit more.’ I knew exactly what that means: more shots. We had our ups and down from that point on.”

Reports of Harden’s tantrums after he was not chosen for the All-Star Game were revealed by Ramona Shelburne in September. Harden initially took to Instagram to decry those characterizations as lies. But in the court of public opinion, it would be difficult to find an alibi for Harden, who would say that’s out of character for him.

We’ve watched him kick up dust with everyone on his sideline in Houston, beam teammates, and blatantly pout on the court in an attempt to make his displeasure known. He got a pass in Houston because he was a respected vet on a franchise that was entering a rebuild stage, but watching him sabotage a contender is eye-opening.

Much of last season was just an audition for his next contract. But after his ego was bruised, a significant part of that motivation was gone. After that, Harden The Beard personality seemingly took over. Harden started out the season as the perfect butler for the eventual MVP, but down the stretch, the quality of his play took a dip, along with his field goal percentage. Harden’s health may have played a part in his declining performance levels, but in Rivers’ opinion, that was merely a contributing factor.

Granted, these are opinions from someone who arguably has an axe to grind with Harden after he played a significant role in getting Rivers canned as head coach of the Sixers. To his credit, Rivers was honest about Harden’s role in his ouster, telling Patrick, “Our relationship, it was an honest one. It’s probably why I’m doing TV.”

Since Rivers was fired partly to placate Harden, he’s gotten worse. He publicly vowed to never again play for a team that employed Daryl Morey, is in the midst of a protracted holdout, and disappeared for a week from the Sixers to return to Houston while the team was closing out its preseason. There’s no telling what he’ll do next to get what he wants — presumably a trade to the Clippers. Ultimately, it’s not Rivers’ responsibility anymore. The calamity that is James Harden now falls on Daryl Morey and Nick Nurse’s shoulders.

Follow DJ Dunson on X: @cerebralsportex

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