Houston Rockets Head Coach Explains Why He Did Not Sign James Harden: It’s About ‘Fit’
At the Houston Rockets media day, head coach Ime Udoka discussed the signing of point guard Fred Van Vleet and why the team chose him over James Harden.
According to ESPN’s Zach Lowe, Van Vleet, who left the Toronto Raptors to come to Houston, can play off the ball,l making him a better fit for Houston. Udoka, formerly with the Boston Celtics, reiterated that stance while fighting back against rumors he didn’t want Harden.
“Nothing against James,” Udoka told ESPN, “but Fred is just a better fit. I coached James in Brooklyn. He’s one of the smartest players I’ve ever been around. The words’ Ime doesn’t want James’ never came out of my mouth. It was, ‘Let’s look at the best fit.’ If we want Jalen and the young guys to take the next steps, we need them to have the ball. As for me saying I don’t want James, that was never the case. It was about fit.”
NBA pundit Stephen A. Smith had a different take. According to Smith, Harden told Udoka and the Rockets brass that he wanted to become the NBA scoring champion again, which turned Udoka off of signing the 10-time All-Star and seven-time All-NBA Harden.
“James Harden, this is what I was told—he actually talked himself out of a max deal because he went in there talking about how he wanted to return to being that scoring champion,” Smith said on First Take. “And Ime Udoka and them were like, ‘Nah, we ain’t trying to have that here, we’re building something a little bit different.’”
Neither Harden nor Udoka have commented on Smith’s rumor. However, if the rumor is true, Harden likely regrets being so honest. Since Houston declined to bring him back, Harden is stuck in Philadelphia, where many have said he has burned bridges with Sixers President Daryl Morey and has been seeking a trade all summer.
The Sixers, however, want an adequate return for Harden, something no team has been willing to give up for a player who has a habit of souring on teams, making trade demands, and creating a hostile environment. The Los Angeles Clippers and New York Knicks were both reported to be interested in the three-time scoring champion, but both teams have since become disinterested, leaving Harden in Philadelphia with the NBA season set to begin Oct. 24.