The dire assessment from Harden, who has been the face of the Rockets since 2012, comes a little more than one month after he reported to training camp late. Multiple reports at the time linked the Rockets with the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers in trade talks involving the three-time scoring champion, who has seen Houston’s roster and organization change dramatically around him.
When the Lakers eliminated the Rockets from the 2020 playoffs, Harden said that he believed Houston was “a piece away” from title contention. Instead, the Rockets parted ways with coach Mike D’Antoni, saw general manager Daryl Morey resign and then take over the Philadelphia 76ers’ front office and traded Russell Westbrook to the Washington Wizards. Those sweeping, abrupt changes left Harden, 31, to adjust to first-time coach Stephen Silas, first-time general manager Rafael Stone and a new backcourt partner in John Wall.
There has been little in the way of instant chemistry, as Harden’s effort has been spotty and his fit with Wall has yet to develop. After eight straight playoff trips, the Rockets have the West’s second-worst record at 3-6, and Harden is scoring 24.8 points per game, his lowest average since he arrived in Houston.
Wall acknowledged Tuesday that his on-court partnership with Harden still needs work.
“I think it’s been a little rocky,” Wall said. “I can’t lie about that. I don’t think it’s been the best it could be, to be honest. That’s all I really could say.”
Wall added that the Rockets shouldn’t “jump off the cliff after nine games” and preached the importance of alignment in the locker room.
“When the 1-15 guys are all on the same page, committed and they know their role, and they know what they want to get out of this, which is to win, then you’ll all be fine,” he said. “But when you have certain guys in the mix that don’t want to buy in as one, it’s hard to do anything special or anything good as a basketball team.”
While Harden has not yet issued a public trade request, he arrived at training camp late after partying in Atlanta and Las Vegas without a mask during the coronavirus pandemic. The NBA fined him $50,000 for violating the league’s health and safety protocols. Harden is earning $41.2 million this season and is under contract through at least the 2021-22 season.
The Rockets, who saw their season opener postponed after several players were sidelined by positive or inconclusive coronavirus tests and contact tracing, weathered that early turbulence. Hopes that Harden’s trade value might increase or his personal investment in the Rockets might stabilize if he played well to start the season have not yet come to fruition.