After another disappointing playoff exit, several changes could be on the horizon for the Houston Rockets. After the departure of head coach Mike D’Antoni and general manager Daryl Morey, All-Star guards James Harden and Russell Westbrook have both reportedly said that they want out of Houston.
However, it is unclear if the Rockets will grant their requests, as ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports that the team could begin training camp with both players in the lineup and that Houston has yet to engage in trade discussions involving Harden. What is clear, however, is that Harden, the 2018 MVP, is interested in playing for the Brooklyn Nets, even turning down a massive two-year, $103 million extension from Houston on top of his current deal.
Joining Brooklyn would reunite Harden with Kevin Durant, his former teammate with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Together with Russell Westbrook, they made up the league’s best young core in Oklahoma City, making the playoffs for three seasons and even reaching the 2012 NBA Finals before a stunning trade sent Harden to the Rockets, where he has blossomed into one of the league’s best players. However, it would also mean joining forces with Irving, who joined the Nets last offseason to form a formidable tandem with Durant.
While reuniting with his former Thunder teammate would be an intriguing possibility, joining forces with Irving, another ball-dominant guard and isolation scorer, has raised more questions, with reports even stating that while Durant wants a reunion with Harden, Irving has no interest in being a third option with the Nets. But if their past interactions are any indication, it seems as if there is no bad blood between the two players, as the guards have complimented each other’s game and joined forces with Team USA.
James Harden and Kyrie Irving have been two of the NBA’s best players for much of the past decade, and have had memorable games against each other. Since their first on-court battle on March 9, 2012, when Irving was a rookie for the Cleveland Cavaliers and Harden was the Thunder’s sixth man, the two high-scoring guards have met 13 times, with Harden winning more games, 8-5, according to LandofBasketball.com.
Playing for Team USA
So far, the only time Harden and Irving have been teammates since joining the NBA happened in 2014, when they were part of the Team USA squad that competed and won the gold at the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain. The two guards had been training for Team USA for years even before the World Cup, and formed a bond during their time with the team, even holding shooting competitions against each other in practice. The Americans dominated the FIBA World Cup, going undefeated in nine games by an average of 33 points on their way to the gold medal.
— Sportskeeda (@Sportskeeda) September 15, 2014
Irving was named as the tournament MVP, averaging 12.1 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 3.6 assists, while shooting 56.2% from the field and a team-high 60.9% from beyond the arc. Harden, meanwhile, led the team in scoring, averaging 14.2 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 3.2 assists on 52.6% shooting from the field and 41.4% from downtown.
The 2018 MVP Race
After their stint with Team USA, James Harden and Kyrie Irving have also spoken about each other. During the 2017-2018 season, Harden won the league MVP award after leading the Rockets to the NBA’s best record. Irving, in a radio interview, revealed that while he was happy for his former teammate, he believes that LeBron James, his former teammate with the Cleveland Cavaliers, should have also been considered.
“MVP, it’s hard to gauge nowadays. Because now you have the people’s MVP and you have, like, the NBA’s MVP,” Irving told radio station Hot 97, per ESPN. “I think the people’s MVP was definitely James [Harden], but the NBA MVP is definitely LeBron [James].”
Despite winning the MVP, Harden and Houston would fall short in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, while Irving, who was then with the Boston Celtics, lost to James and the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Beard and Uncle Drew in South Beach?
Months later, Harden and Irving were among several NBA players who were spotted working out during the offseason at the American Airlines Arena, the home court of the Miami Heat. Aside from the two All-Stars, other players who joined the workout included Irving’s future teammate Durant along with other Heat players.
Kyrie, KD and James Harden linked up with the Heat for some Miami summer work … 👀
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) September 11, 2018
The two guards can even be seen linking up during one play, with Harden throwing a pass to Irving for a lay-up. The workout, however, did not lead to either player joining South Beach, with Irving joining the Nets just months later and Harden being joined by Westbrook in Clutch City.
Recent On-Court Battles
Irving’s career-high against Harden came on January 7, 2015, when the Cavaliers guard dropped 38 points in a 105-93 loss to the Rockets. James Harden’s best performance against Irving’s teams came four years later, on December 27, 2018, when he scored 45 points in the Rockets’ 127-113 win over Irving’s Celtics.
In one of their most recent matchups on March 3, 2019, Harden finished with 42 points in a 115-104 win over Irving and the Celtics. After the game, the Rockets guard was all praises for Irving’s game, even calling him a very impactful player, per NBC Sports.
“Obviously, Kyrie brings a different identity to the game with his scoring ability. Tonight, I think he had six or seven assists, something like that. He’s a very impactful player.”
In their most recent meeting on November 1, 2019, it was Irving, now with the Nets, who got the better of Harden, with Brooklyn beating Houston, 123-116. Harden, however, won their individual matchup, outscoring Irving, 36-22, and giving him a dose of his own medicine by hitting the six-time All-Star with a crossover early in the game.
— NBA TV (@NBATV) November 1, 2019
Since then, Irving missed the rest of the season after undergoing shoulder surgery as the Nets lost in the first round of the playoffs. Meanwhile, Harden, in his first year with Westbrook, led the Rockets back to the playoffs for the eighth straight season, but lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in five games in the Conference Semifinals.
It remains to be seen if the two high-scoring, ball-dominant guards can co-exist together with Durant and new head coach Steve Nash with the Nets, or if such a trade will even happen. But the previous interactions between the two players have shown that there is mutual respect between Harden and Irving, whether they are playing for their NBA teams or for flag and country.