Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers was a man of few words during James Harden’s introductory press conference on Tuesday afternoon. However, one phrase stole the show: “We want the opportunity to be the winner and we believe this trade does that.”
Rivers only answered one question and, really, didn’t even have to say that much. Harden’s presence signals the Sixers are all-in on a championship — not next year; not in five years; right now, in 2022. They expect to be the “last team standing” in June as the confetti falls on MVP Joel Embiid and his new superstar best friend.
“Damn yeah,” Harden said when asked if he had won a title in 2022. When asked to clarify his comment by a reporter, the 2018 MVP repeated the “hell yeah” loud enough for the rear cameras to hear. Harden is still recovering from a left hamstring injury but expects to make his Sixers debut after the All-Star break. That’s when the title race officially begins.
“There’s a lot of things that come into play, but I think just being with the guys here, they have the right mindset,” Harden said. “Obviously, with what comes from the technical staff, after the break, it’s time to leave. As much as I can integrate and understand things quickly and get things done, the better. But that shouldn’t take long at all, I’m pretty much a fit anywhere.
Injury-wise, Harden hasn’t experienced any setbacks. He was putting weight on it and move well in practice on Tuesday. The decision to sit out was a collaboration between him and the Sixers medical staff. Harden continues to do strengthening exercises while maintaining his cardio.
“The hamstrings feel really good, I’m just doing a lot of strengthening work right now,” Harden said. “As far as I’m concerned, I have to make sure I’m okay, I’m healthy, I’m in a place where I can be the best James Harden I can be on the pitch.”
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Philadelphia’s First Pick Always Harden
Some have pointed the finger at Harden for be a bad teammate as he joins his third organization in fourteen months. The track record would indicate that he’s a guy who runs away at the first fork in the road, unwilling to tolerate losing unless it’s on his terms. It’s a common misconception that Harden has sought to dispel.
“I mean, it wasn’t planned like that,” Harden said. “Fourteen months ago, I couldn’t see myself in three different teams, but here we are today and I’m happy. Last year, a lot of ups and downs, a lot of stress, but that’s in the past, whatever. I’m excited, I’m healthy and this is the opportunity of a lifetime.
Harden went on to say that Philly was always his first choice since last year trade deadline. The Sixers were working on a deal to get him away from Houston, but he fell apart in the 25th hour. Instead, Harden was traded to Brooklyn and the rest is history.
“Originally, when I was going through everything I was going through in Houston, Philly was my first choice,” Harden said. “It just didn’t happen. So the specifics, I don’t really want to get into the Brooklyn situation…I’ve known for a very long time that it was perfect.
Join forces with Embiid, Mentoring Maxey
It’s unclear how Rivers will mix up the starting five when Harden arrives. He could play it on point in a backcourt with Harden and Matisse Thybulle. Or Tyrese Maxey stays at the one with Harden sliding into the shooting guard position. Either way, Harden will be the primary ball handler and take on the role given to him.
“They already have something great here,” Harden said. “I’m just here to contribute and I know I can do that very well. So on the pitch, when you have top guys who know the game and all they want to do is win, we’re going to find out.
One of these “top guys” is Embiid, the consensus MVP through 56 games. The 7-footer was a big reason Harden pushed for the Philly trade. These two players, combined with Tobias Harris 18.9 points per gameare going to be a nightmare for all teams in the Eastern Conference.
“I think we complement each other,” Harden said of Embiid. “Obviously the whole world knows how well Joel has played. Not just scoring the basketball, the rebound – he had a triple-double in his last game – his presence alone is incredible. feeling the same way as improving my teammates, doing different things that impact the game at the highest level.