The infamous mindset of individual over team in professional basketball

Does James Harden’s forced trade from the Houston Rockets to the Brooklyn Nets once again prove that elite basketball player take advantage of their teams in the pursuit of their own self-centered agenda?

On Jan. 13, the Rockets announced that Harden, two-time NBA scoring champion, would be traded to the Nets in a blockbuster four-team trade. The Nets now have three superstar players— Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant along with Harden. Harden’s wish to be on a team that can compete for an NBA championship reduced the Rockets to a smoldering franchise.

However, Harden should have taken responsibility for his own personnel decisions that did not work out because of his lack of patience and dedication to the team concept. This is a poor reflection on the league as a whole since it reinforces the reputation of the NBA as being run by elite players who are immersed in their own self-conceit and who have no problem breaching a contract that they so happily signed for an amount of money that is equal to the Gross Domestic Product of small countries.

Through months of reports that claim Harden was displeased during his time with the Rockets, it was inevitable that sooner or later he would leave the team. Yet, Harden had no right to be dissatisfied with the Rockets since they catered to his every personal desire. Whenever Harden wanted the team to recruit a basketball player of his own choosing, the Rockets made sure to do whatever they could to ensure that his wish was granted.

When Harden wanted All-Star Dwight Howard in 2016, the team pulled out all the stops to sign him to a multi-million dollar deal, only for Harden to change his mind after playing with Howard for only a year. Focusing his attention on Chris Paul, Harden vocalized that he wanted Paul to be on the Rockets. To get him, the Rockets mortgaged its future by parting with numerous first-round draft picks over several years. To ensure that Paul stayed for the long run, the team overpaid Paul obscenely and extended his contract. Not surprisingly, Harden soon grew dissatisfied with Paul too. That is when he decided to lobby for Paul to be traded for former teammate Russell Westbrook in 2019 and another gargantuan contract. Would this finally make Harden happy? Of course not.

Harden remained a malcontent individual that was never satisfied with anything the Rockets did for him. Although the team catered and capitulated to his every demand, ultimately, Harden became restless and wanted out of Houston.

If Harden’s contract with the Rockets expired this year, no one would have had anything to say. But he had two years left at over $41 million per year! It did not matter that Houston had gutted its team for him. Harden had plenty of opportunities to lead the Rockets to a conference title after every one of his demands was met, but all he did was abandon the sanctuary Houston created for him like a recluse.

The only way to leave a team after signing a contract is via trade; rarely can an organization get equal trade value for an NBA superstar. But what can a franchise do when its superstar quits on the team and says, “I’ve literally done everything I can. This [team] situation is crazy. I don’t think it can be fixed. Thanks.”

NBA teams are often pressured into allowing their players to leave since it is pointless to have an unmotivated athlete stay, especially a player like Harden who alienates his teammates on his way out the door. NBA teams just cannot run the risk of spiteful players ruining the spirit and culture of the team by having a foul and obnoxious attitude. Franchises simply have no measures to offset such malicious behavior.

In the recent past, players like Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis, Kawai Leonard and Paul George all have left their respective teams by being traded, even when their contract had not expired yet. It appears that the trading culture in the NBA is simply a way too easy way out from being held individually accountable. When this disrespectful behavior is tolerated, the environment of the NBA is perceived as one that prioritizes individual preferences instead of teamwork, an essential aspect of basketball.

To stop this injustice from being inflicted upon NBA organizations, we must ensure that such players face and endure serious repercussions for purposefully breaching a contract. Deals should not be broken once they are agreed upon; yet, for some basketball players, a deal is an open invitation for them to renounce all responsibility for their actions. Actions have consequences, and just because someone is a king on the basketball court does not mean that he should be granted special treatment off of it, especially in the court of law, public opinion and individual accountability.


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