James Harden, James, Daryl Morey discussed on The Lead
Lead. So Sam, the NBA deadline is behind us, the all star break is just ahead. As a reporter, have you gotten a minute to take a breath here over the last few days with the deadline past us or does it feel like you're sprinting full speed? No, you get a breather after the deadline. And honestly, it's rejuvenating because especially in these still these COVID times where the media access is not what it used to be. And so by the two thirds point, if you will, around the trade deadline and the all star break, you're almost running out of storylines. And the trade deadline always provides that. It's not always in fireworks forum, like this hardened Simmons deal. There's always something though. So you got new stuff to dive into and write about and talk about. So there's a new energy. So no complaints here. Well, we definitely got a big news storyline to talk about at this deadline. Now, we're talking to late in the day on Monday. And James Harden still hasn't made his debut for the sixers. So as of Monday, what's the latest there? The announced today, in fact, that James with that hamstring problem that has kept him out for quite some time is going to be out through the all star break. But it certainly will get into this later, but it is interesting in the context of this hamstring problem having been kind of roundly ridiculed with people thinking that James wasn't really that hurt that he was dragging his feet because he wanted this trade. And so the idea that he's actually not ready to go certainly seemed to contradict that and he can put your tinfoil hat on if you want and decide how much of it you believe. But yeah, that is the word that his debut is going to have to come after the all star break. Well, Sam, we're in the era of player empowerment in the NBA. And you wrote recently about the unique impact that James Harden's power had on making this trade happen. But to understand that, we have to first go back in time. So take us back to October 2020 and a phone call you had. Can you tell us who was on that call and why it was significant? Sure. So Daryl morey at that time, currently, of course, the sixers president of basketball operations, the guy who got this deal done on the Philly side was the longtime Houston Rockets general manager. And in the wake of the rockets losing to the Lakers and the second round of the playoffs and the Orlando bubble. We learned that Daryl is going to resign from the rockets. It was unexpected. Now, of course, it also came not long after, then rockets coach, Mike D'antoni, had headed for the exits. Mike had a lot of frustration with rockets owner tilman fertitta felt disrespected. And that was a big part of his calculus and not wanting to come back. And so that phone call that you're referencing. I'm on the line with rockets owner tilman fertitta, Daryl morey, who would obviously just resigned and then our athletic rockets beat rider Kelly ico, Tillman, who's kind of widely known to be a guy who I don't want to say is a temper, but he can run a little bit hot. Tillman is clearly upset that I asked about the Antonio's exit, clearly not loving the idea that he was somehow to blame for Mike leaving Houston. And he jumps in and says, wow, Sam, you're the only one right in making something out of nothing. Did not agree with the premise didn't agree with the Intel. We strongly disagreed, then and now, but my takeaway in the context of the hardened Simmons trade is this. D'antoni leaving Houston did have something to do with fertitta. But Mike in retrospect clearly could see the writing on the wall, clearly could tell that James Harden was unofficially done in Houston and when James Harden makes up his mind that he has done what they situation, you would be very wise to start trying to figure out your own exit plan. I think Mike was ahead of it. I think Daryl was next and obviously winds up in Philly, where his number one goal was to get James. They have a CEO at the time, Ted Brown, who was very close with James Harden who would also later leave Houston and land in Philly. So the trend is really obvious. When James decides, I think it's a wrap in this whatever location he's in, then you're probably need to heed that warning and figure out what the next steps are. So not long after that call, in January of 2021, James Harden forced the trade from the rockets to the Brooklyn Nets. The nets give up a ton to get him. And after he arrived in Brooklyn, it seems like the honeymoon with this new team didn't last all that long either. What's your sense of what went wrong with Hardin in the nets? It's interesting because in admittedly, even if you read my latest column, it was fairly tough on James. And I do believe what I wrote. But I think this was not all James fault by any means because Kyrie Irving's decision to not get vaccinated was to me the spark of this entire explosion, if you will in Brooklyn. And it was really as simple as a guy like James Harden who has not won a championship who has gotten very close. So by the time he gets to Brooklyn, the motivation to win a title is obviously at a very high level, he's having a reunion with his old buddy Kevin Durant from the Oklahoma City days. But then the Kyrie component, I always found interesting because at minimum it just seemed like it was imperfect. You had two ball dominant guards. Now make no mistake. When they were on the court together and that limited time, they were dangerous. But when Kyrie doesn't get the shot, and when all of a sudden he's out for so much of the first half of the season, then he eventually comes back, he's only playing half the time. I don't blame James whatsoever for looking around and just saying, this is not what I signed up for. And I think the age component comes into play big time here. He's 32 years old. He doesn't have time to waste. And so he obviously made a decision as the trade deadline neared that I think I'm going to go ahead and do this. I'm going to get out of here. Now, the nets did ultimately force him to say it because he had been back channeling signals and he had been telling people around him. And it reached a point. Even a column I wrote heading into the trade deadline where it was almost uncomfortable and awkward where, for me, it was clear as day that Philadelphia knew that James was leaving Brooklyn this summer, and the nets didn't hadn't even come to grips with that reality yet. And so the question became, his nets GM Sean marks going to realize before it's too late that you better do something now or else you're going to lose this guy for nothing in the summer. So when Hardin decides he wants out, we've seen over the years that he does have a pretty interesting playbook for getting his way. And you mentioned some of this already, but Sam, can you just remind us what we saw from harden toward the end of his time with the rockets and then in the final days of his time with the nets? Yeah, with the rockets, it was dean Tony leaving people wondered how big of a deal that was going to be for James because Mike was his guy. So as training camp arrived, all of a sudden, you learned that James is not there. You're learning that we're not really sure where he is. And then we're kind of in the peak of COVID at that time. So the optics were pretty terrible. You know, you got social media posts with James hanging out in Atlanta with little baby and putting videos up that don't exactly send the message that he's taking COVID seriously. And then he's in Vegas doing similar things. James, what was the point that you were trying to get across when you went to Atlanta and Vegas when training camp was starting? I was just training. What were you training for? Started the NBA season. How did going to the Atlanta in Vegas help you there when the rockets were starting training camp in Houston? Just one person with trainers. I mean, it's really no different than your kid who's upset and they're throwing a tantrum, but I'm not trying to denigrate James at all, but this is how you get your parents attention so to speak. But the Brooklyn thing, I think is a little bit more up for debate. It wasn't as egregious, but there were similar themes here where the hamstring issue was discussed by Steve Nash and other people with the nets as not the most serious injury yet all of a sudden he's missing. I really significant stretch of games. For me, because I'm based in Northern California. I go to Sacramento Kings games a lot when I'm not traveling, you know, James Harden's last game with the nets, which I was at is kind of.