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James Harden's off-court habits have been called into question as a $223 million contract hangs in the balance

Scott Davis   

James Harden's off-court habits have been called into question as a $223 million contract hangs in the balance
  • James Harden has a reputation for enjoying the nightlife.
  • Reports indicate Harden continued to enjoy going out as he forced his way off the Rockets and Nets.

James Harden is not different from many NBA players who enjoy the nightlife.

What is different is how Harden's enjoyment of the nightlife has seeped into the discussion around his last two ugly exits from teams and a future contract worth $200-plus million.

"His off-the-court habits are legendarily bad," an NBA GM told Insider last December, as Harden was hoping to get traded from Houston.

Indeed, Harden has at times seemingly used partying as a way to convey his desire to be in different places.

After Harden requested a trade from the Houston Rockets before the 2020-21 season, he missed the start of the team's training camp to attend rapper Lil' Baby's party in Atlanta. Later, he was seen partying in Las Vegas before reporting to camp.

Now, following his explosive exit from the Brooklyn Nets to the 76ers, further reports indicate that Harden's off-court habits were seen as flaking on his commitment to the team.

ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne reported that Harden "continued his late-night social activities" this season, raising eyebrows from teammates as the team was on a losing streak and Western Conference road trip.

Bleacher Report's Jake Fischer reported that Harden didn't arrive at a February 4 game against the Utah Jazz until halftime (he was out with a hamstring injury). Fischer noted that at the end of the game, Harden flew to Las Vegas while the team flew to Denver for a game against the Nuggets.

Harden's final game with the Nets was a listless, 4-point, 6-turnover performance against the Sacramento Kings on February 2. Harden's apparent lack of effort made members of the Nets believe he was trying to send a message, ESPN and Bleacher Report both reported.

The 76ers did not immediately respond to a request for comment for this story.

Harden scheduled time for off-court socializing in the past, even when he wasn't trying to force a trade. ESPN's Tim MacMahon reported in December of 2020 that Harden had a major influence over the Rockets' travel schedule, with the team often staying overnight in cities that were "among Harden's favorite stops."

According to MacMahon, if the Rockets had several days between games, Harden would often charter a private jet to Las Vegas to party.

Of course, it should be noted that Harden has been among the NBA's most dominant players over the last decade. He led the NBA in scoring for three straight seasons from 2017 to 2020 while posting one of the league's highest usage rates ever.

As one former Rockets assistant coach had told MacMahon: "If they have multiple days off, everybody knows: James is going to fly somewhere else and party. But he's going to come back and have a 50-point triple-double, so they're OK with it."

"The worst contract in NBA history"

The marriage of these two things — Harden's heavy usage, combined with his less-than-ideal treatment of his body — raises concerns about how he'll age.

Both ESPN and Bleacher Report reported that Harden was out of shape entering training camp this year. Harden faced similar critiques at the beginning of last season with the Rockets.

As ESPN's Zach Lowe had said on his podcast last year, when Harden wanted out of Houston, some teams weren't thrilled with the idea of getting Harden as he played into his 30s.

"There are teams that are concerned about how he is going to age, how his game will age, in part because of the perception, and certainly recently, the reality, that he is out at night a lot," Lowe said.

Harden has a $47 million player option for the 2022-23 season that he said he would pick up. He will also be eligible for a four-year, $223 million extension. If he opts out of his player option, he can sign a five-year, $270 million contract with the 76ers.

ESPN analyst Bobby Marks, a former assistant GM with the Nets, said on "NBA Today" that Harden's next contract will be the worst in league history.

"In three years — and I know it's all about winning a championship — we're gonna be talking about James Harden like we're talking about Russell Westbrook and like we're talking about John Wall from a contract standpoint. And that contract will be the worst contract in NBA history ... $62 million when he is 38 years of age."

That is a massive number that would make any team queasy, but Harden's history almost certainly makes it worse.

That type of label — "the worst contract in NBA history" — is not thrown around with players like LeBron James (set to make $47 million next year as he turns 38) or Kevin Durant (set to make $53 million in his age-37 season). Though there are injury concerns with Durant, the Nets were not criticized for giving him a $194 million extension before the 2021-22 season.

Of course, Harden's salary will be significantly higher still than James and Durant's.

And there is some debate within the NBA world if Harden has already begun to decline. His scoring average has dipped in consecutive years, and this season he is shooting 41% from the field and 33% from three, producing his least efficient season since his rookie year.

Are those numbers the sign of wear-and-tear? The burden of years carrying Rockets offenses on a body that hasn't been cared for like, say, LeBron's? Or was it simply Harden going through the motions and losing interest in playing for an injury-riddled team? Perhaps all three?

The 76ers actively pursued Harden; they didn't simply end up with him. Led by GM Daryl Morey, Harden's GM in Houston, know Harden's game and they know about his off-court habits.

The 76ers are all-in on a championship pursuit and acquired a second star they believe can get them there. But how successful this pairing will be and for how long remain major questions.


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