PLAYA VISTA, Calif. — James Harden said he sacrificed millions along with his game, which he said was “limiting” during his time with the Philadelphia 76ers.
Harden said he tried to do what was needed to win in Philadelphia, but the 76ers’ front office didn’t want him. Now with the Clippers, Harden is hoping he can change some of the negative narratives surrounding him after tough exits from Brooklyn and Philadelphia and prove that he is still an elite star who can match up with Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Russell Westbrook and win a title. championship.
In his introductory press conference Thursday at the Clippers’ facility, Harden described what he felt was wrong in Philadelphia.
“I took $26 million less to sign and make the team better,” Harden said. “Change my role, that is, the media [felt] She dominates the ball, and my dominance on the ball is really effective. But changing my role, trying to change the narrative, trying to sacrifice and do whatever it takes to win at the highest level. It wasn’t talked about. It’s another bachelor’s degree.
“So I left Brooklyn and thought I was going to retire from the Sixers, and the front office had other plans. They didn’t want me. … There’s a lot of narratives out there and people think they have an opinion. … But none of it is true.”
Harden had his first practice as a Clippers player on Thursday and remains on track to make his Clippers debut at Madison Square Garden against the New York Knicks on Monday. Clippers coach Ty Lue had a four-day break to use as minicamp to integrate Harden and PJ Tucker into his offense before they begin a three-game road trip in New York.
Harden, who has recorded 10 assists per game in the past three seasons, hopes he can unleash his style of play under Lue. He said he felt restricted while with the Sixers, that he was “restricted” and unable to perform at his best offensively, whether facilitating or scoring alongside Joel Embiid.
Harden explained that “staying limited” didn’t necessarily apply to the number of shots he was taking.
“I think about the game and I’m creative on the court,” Harden said. “So, if I get a voice where I can say, ‘Hey coach, I see this. What do you think about this?” Someone who trusts me, believes in me, understands me. I’m not a player in the system. I’m a system. Do you know what I mean?
“So someone who can have that conversation with me, understand, move forward, and come up with adjustments on the fly throughout games, that’s all I really care about. It’s not about scoring the basketball, or scoring 34 points. I’ve already done that.”
The Clippers see Harden as someone who can make life easier for Leonard and George. Harden, Leonard, George and Westbrook talked about sacrifice, about going beyond individual stats and trying to come together to help the Clippers win their first NBA title. Having all succeeded in such situations, the four stars will have to share the basketball.
However, one connection they do share is that they grew up in Southern California and want to do something special.
“I came home,” said Harden, who played at Artesia High School in Lakewood, California. “I just think my comfort level is being around my family and then having some really good players on this team. All four guys are from California. That’s a unique story. So with all that together, it just made sense.”
This is the third time that Harden and Westbrook have teamed up after playing together in Oklahoma City and Houston.
“I’ve known Ross since the Boys & Girls Club in Los Angeles,” Harden said. “So our relationship goes beyond basketball. He was one of the reasons [of wanting to be traded to the Clippers]. He feels like he has something to prove, too. We’ve got a goal we’re trying to achieve. And what better way to do it together in Los Angeles.”
Harden sees similarities between the Clippers and his situation with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn before injuries derailed the team.
“I was in a similar situation in Brooklyn, where you had two players who could score the basketball and create mismatches with defenses,” he said. “So I’m good at basketball, outside of basketball. Pick-and-roll and shoot. We’ve got some really good coaches. We’ve got some really unselfish players.”
“I suspect [I can] Score basketball. I’m a very good basketball player too. So I can make it easier.”
Harden said he is looking forward to proving a lot with the Clippers.
“Everything,” Harden said when asked what he had to prove. “I’m elite as an individual so I can fit in with anyone and make it to the championship.
“So I think we’re all on the same page as far as individual stats and all that stuff has passed us by. We all have one goal and I think everyone knows what that goal is.”
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