Say what you want of James Harden, but if there’s one thing he possesses that bears the hallmark of winners, it’s confidence. Regardless of situation or condition, he has a ton of it. You can even argue that his version of it borders on the irrational. He invariably bets on himself, period. It’s why he has a Most Valuable Player award and 10 All-Star nods to his name. It’s also why he boasts of otherworldly stats in the pace-and-space era; his extremely elevated usage rate, especially during his prime, speaks of his wizardry with the ball. So when he says the Clippers will be better, and sooner rather than later, he isn’t merely being dismissive of criticism. He absolutely believes in his capacity to contribute heavily to the cause.
Unfortunately, Harden has no filters. He gives the public heavy doses his “love your own” mentality even during times when prudence is the more viable option. Take, for example, his inaugural press conference with the Clippers. Instead of first familiarizing himself with his new digs and making sure he gets to fit in as the outsider looking in, he made sure everyone knows he’s looking out for Number One. Talking about his messy divorce with the Sixers (which, tellingly, followed just-as-controversial departures from the Rockets, Nets, and Sixers), he said he was “on a leash,” and that “they didn’t want me in the end.”
The optics notwithstanding, Harden’s distorted view of his fractured relationships reflects his unshakable faith in his capacity to do wonders either the ball in his hands. “I’m not a system player,” he contended during his introductory presser. “I’m a system.” Which isn’t a problem until, of course, it’s disproven. And, with the Clippers, even the most ardent fans will be hard-pressed to show that he’s right. So far in his brief tenure, they’ve lost six consecutive games. He suited up in five of those contests, and his norms were, not coincidentally, pedestrian at best: 15 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.2 assists.
Needless to say, the atrocious record provides fuel for naysayers who deem Harden a net negative. And they have history on their side, too; in every stop, he has shown an alarming predisposition for disappearing during big moments. The flipside is that the Clippers are too good not to improve. The wonder is whether they will do so because of him, or in spite of him.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and human resources management, corporate communications, and business development.