By: rahat huq
Surely you've heard by now that James Harden declared himself to be the best all-around player in the game, some days ago. Much has been made of the comment, but I personally don't see a problem. Obviously, the statement isn't factually correct, but what does it matter? I want my best player to exude confidence. That's a far more preferable scenario than the one in which the early 2000's Kings found themselves when their star player, Chris Webber, literally ran away from the ball late in games, deferring to Mike Bibby. You could counter this shows a lack of self-awareness, but I'd offer that maybe this means higher expectations.
But anyways, of greater personal interest were Coach K's comments about Harden's leadership with Team USA. Maybe they're true? Maybe they're a motivating technique? (Remember how Jeff Van Gundy would routinely praise Kelvin Cato?) In any event, as I've been saying for some time now, the experience this summer can only be a good thing for James. When Kevin Durant pulled out from the team, I'll be honest: I secretly hoped Harden would as well. Seeing Paul George take the spill he did left a lasting impression, and it has not been fun holding my breath afterward every time Harden has driven the lane. But players can get hurt anywhere. True, the basket support was directly contributory in George's case, but you can land awkwardly on the blacktop at Rucker as well.
Durant leaving was sort of a blessing. Remember the stories about Lebron James getting to see how hard Kobe Bryant worked day in and day out after their summer together? That wasn't going to happen here as Harden and Durant are already familiar. But now, Harden is establishing himself as the go-to player on a team comprised of some of the best in the world. And he's learning the way to win under a coach he purportedly respects. This overall experience, and the confidence borne from it, can be nothing but positive.
If Harden comes back focused, transformed, maybe that's better than any transaction Morey could have made. He looks much trimmer in these games. And as I noted earlier in the week, Dwight Howard already seems locked in.
We've been focusing on the personnel game for some years now. But player transformation has been the traditional path to success. Hakeem finding inner peace and trust in his teammates. Lebron reinventing his game. Harden can be the second best player in this conference. If he puts in work on the defensive end, he will be.
To date, I like what I'm seeing thus far. If you asked me now, I'm expecting a big year.