The veteran scorer shook up basketball’s offseason when he opted in for the final year of his contract and demanded a trade. Harden’s decision came after teams showed little interest in exceeding his $35.6 million salary for 2023–24 in free agency.
However, one team was reportedly interested in meeting Harden’s contract terms, according to ESPN's Stephen A. Smith.
On Wednesday’s First Take, Smith said a “very reliable source” told him that the Rockets were set to offer Harden a max deal. But Houston and new coach Ime Udoka pulled back when Harden said that he wanted to win another scoring title.
That ambition, expressed over the desire to win an NBA championship, apparently turned off a new coach who sought a more team-oriented approach.
Harden won three consecutive NBA scoring titles from 2017 through ’20. In the three seasons since then, Steph Curry and Joel Embiid have led the league in scoring average.
Perhaps this explains Harden’s desire to get out of Philadelphia. He likely won’t win another scoring title while playing with Embiid. But building a team around a player scoring more than 30 points per game (Embiid’s 33.1 points per game average led the league last season) isn’t the way Ukoka wanted to conduct his business.
If true, this is an astounding contention. As Smith said, Harden talked himself out of a possible contract worth more than $200 million, not to mention returning to the team with whom he played nine seasons. Was another scoring title worth all that?