If James Harden ends up staying put in Philadelphia and competing against the Celtics next season, Boston may have its former head coach in part to thank.
Earlier this offseason, the Houston Rockets were viewed as a potential favorite to land Harden, who reportedly has opted into his player option with the 76ers and is seeking a trade out of Philly. But it sounds like new Rockets head coach Ime Udoka has zero interest in coaching the former Houston fan favorite.
"From everything we’ve gotten out of there, it was a matter that Ime didn’t want him," a league source told Heavy Sports' Steve Bulpett. "At the beginning, were they thinking about Harden? Yeah. But then they hired Ime, and Ime said, 'It’s not going to work here.'"
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Harden is incredibly skilled but doesn't have the best reputation as a team leader; his Rockets tenure ended shortly after he demanded a trade from Houston in November 2020 and staged a brief holdout by reporting to training camp late. The Rockets are loaded with talented but raw young players, so perhaps Udoka didn't view Harden as the veteran presence his team needed.
Udoka would know from experience: He worked with Harden for half of the 2020-21 season as a member of the Nets' coaching staff, and Harden missed 21 of the team's final 23 regular-season games before Brooklyn fell in the second round of the playoffs.
If Udoka and the Rockets were keen on veteran leadership, that explains why they signed point guard Fred VanVleet to a three-year, $128.5 million maximum contract in free agency. While VanVleet can't touch Harden's scoring or passing ability, he has a championship on his resume and a chip on his shoulder after going from undrafted to All-Star.
Houston is expected to be a lottery team once again thanks to its inexperienced roster, but it appears Udoka has a clear vision for how he wants the Rockets to look under his watch.