Disgruntled superstar James Harden said the Houston Rockets are “just not good enough” after the team’s second consecutive blowout loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night, adding that he doesn’t believe the team can improve enough to be a contender.
It’s the closest Harden has come to going public with the trade demand that sources said he made during the offseason.
Houston’s front office is determined to remain patient until its asking price for the 2018 NBA MVP is met, sources told ESPN. The Rockets have informed teams that they want a young franchise cornerstone and a package of first-round picks and/or intriguing talent on rookie contracts in return for Harden, sources said.
The Rockets have had active/ongoing trade discussions with “more than a half dozen teams,” according to one source close to the situation, and have been communicating with Harden about those options.
Harden made it clear to owner Tilman Fertitta before the season that he did not believe in the franchise’s direction and ability to contend and preferred to be traded to a team that was in a better position to win, sources said.
Fertitta was disappointed but told Harden that he would explore the trade market on the Rockets’ timetable. He has since continually given Harden assurances that he will trade him, and empowered new general manager Rafael Stone to trade the three-time scoring champion, who has three years and $133 million with a player option for the final season remaining on his contract, when he finds a deal he likes.
Tim MacMahon reacts to James Harden saying the Rockets are “just not good enough” after a loss to the Lakers.
The Rockets have lost four of five games since Harden, who held out of the beginning of training camp, returned from a right ankle sprain that caused him to miss one game. He has scored 20 points or fewer in the past four games, his longest such stretch since 2011-12, his final season with the Oklahoma City Thunder, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
This loss was especially noncompetitive, as the Rockets trailed 35-14 at the end of the first quarter. Houston fell to 3-6, only a half-game ahead of the Minnesota Timberwolves for the worst record in the Western Conference.
“We’re not even close, honestly, to that team — obviously the defending champions — and all the other elite teams out there,” Harden said. “I mean, you can tell the difference in these last two games.
“We’re just not good enough — chemistry, talentwise, just everything. And it was clear these last two games.”
Harden ended his virtual news conference after only two questions. Rockets point guard John Wall, who arrived in a trade for Russell Westbrook just before the start of training camp, noted that players concerned about personal agendas can bring down a team.
“He’s talking to his own opinion. I can’t know what he thinks about the team or what he feels like we are,” Wall said. “I know how much hard work these guys put in … to try to get better every day. I know how much work I put into it to get back and compete at a high level.
“There’s a lot of guys here that want to compete at a high level. Like I told everybody tonight and told the guys before, when one through 15 guys are all on the same page and they commit and they know their role and they know what they want to get out of this and that’s to win, it’ll all be fine. But when you have certain guys in the mix that don’t want to buy in all as one, it’s going to be hard to do anything special or anything good as a basketball team.”
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne contributed to this report.