About a week or so ago, I intended to write a post about whether the Milwaukee Bucks should have entertained the idea of acquiring James Harden.
The season had not yet begun, Giannis had just signed a supermax deal keeping him with the Bucks for the next four to five seasons and James Harden had proven himself miserable in Houston.
While acquiring Harden, a league MVP and eight-time All-Star would likely have meant trading Khris Middleton, it’s a deal that probably could have been worked out contract-wise with a few other, moving parts and pieces.
This is, of course, before Harden became even more disgruntled (who even knew that was possible?), before he was spotted at a Houston strip club (quarantine anyone?), before the video of the seemingly remorseless Harden was shown for all the internet to see and before the NBA fined him $50,000 for his blatant disregard of the league’s safety protocols.
While there were allegedly and initially many suitors for Harden, despite having to finagle how to fit him both a) under contract and b) within the chemistry of your team, Harden’s recent antics made potentially interested general managers second guess their decision more than they already were.
Again, one week ago, before Harden’s Titty Bar Tour of 2020, I could have made the case that acquiring Harden would have at least been worth Milwaukee’s consideration. Not entirely convinced the Bucks as currently comprised are title-capable, adding another bona fide superstar, which Harden still is, would at least made things intriguing… and drawn ratings.
With the exception of perhaps the 2004 Detroit Pistons, you’d have to go back decades to find an NBA championship team without a superstar, if not multiple superstars. While still a team sport, this is a league that was among the in first professional sports to recognize the marketability of its top tier athletes and then began marketing those individuals over the teams themselves. This is also a league comprised of teams that recognize the value of said superstars in terms of not only winning titles but selling tickets and merchandise. If you think for one second, the Milwaukee Bucks are regretting cutting Giannis a check for $228 million, the richest contract in NBA history, think again. They’ll be making that back tenfold.
But, as we’ve recently seen with Harden, a superstar can also wear out his gloss. Imagine NOT wanting a guy who has averaged thirty points a game over the last eight seasons and led the league in scoring the last three. That’s the bed James Harden has made for himself and it looks like it’s going to cost him a happy home.
Harden’s reputation is not unsalvageable. To be certain, athletes have come back from way worse than strip club visits and bad attitudes to eventually reengage themselves within their fans’ good graces. But Harden must ultimately prove that he values winning championships over throwing up hundreds of jump shots and throwing down hundreds on lap dances.
That requires the sacrifice that only James Harden knows whether he can make. Right now, all bets are off.
Which brings us back to whether a team, more specifically a title-contending team like Milwaukee who is not known for upsetting the applecart, should consider signing the best-case scenario James Harden and not the worst case one. Unfortunately, there are no guarantees. Harden’s is not baggage you can just drop off at an airport with the hope it gets lost.
GMs will tell you there are very few expendable, untradeable, untouchable players in this league and sometimes tough decisions need to be made. There’s no denying Khris Middleton is not the player (and fortunately not the person) that Harden is. So, in this day and age of superstars driving teams’ success, isn’t the thought of a peacefully coexisting Greek Freak and James Harden at least intriguing on paper?
Or at least it was, a week ago, before the question marks surrounding James Harden turned into an exclamation point preceded by a big No Thank You.