Even during All-Star weekend, James Harden can't escape the pressure of this season. The moment he joined Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn, Shaq said this is Harden's last chance to win. If he doesn't, James Harden will be remembered as a loser.
“James has a problem with what I said. He hasn’t stepped up yet. All that talk, we should be uplifting brothers and all that. I uplift my brothers by telling them the truth. I’m not a yes man. You ain’t show up yet; you gotta win a championship. You are supposed to make it to the finals, and you are also supposed to win. I wanna see some people win. I wish them well, and I hope they win, but if they don’t win a championship this year, it’s a bust.”
Shaquille O’Neal, via First Take
Shaq was "just" following up even harsher comments about Harden he made a week before the trade. In those, Shaq called out Harden for saying he gave his all to Houston. That time, Shaq didn't just criticize as a Hall of Famer. We got to see analyst O'Neal - Shaq had numbers to back him up.
“And when you say ‘I gave you everything,’ I say no, you didn’t. Cause the last five games, when it comes to elimination, you’re 1 and 4. You’ve been shooting 41%, 24% from three, 32 assists, and 27 turnovers.”
Shaquille O’Neal, Inside the NBA
Joining a superteam comes with extra pressure, and players should accept it. If you do so as poorly as Harden did, forcing his way out of Houston in a deeply unprofessional matter (to say the least), the pressure only increases. From day 1, everyone wondered how will KD, Harden, and Kyrie share the ball, and Irving made a significant contribution to the solution by doing what Wade did for LeBron in Miami. Kyrie told Harden he's the point guard, and their offense should start with him.
But Antoine Walker is not convinced. The former Celtic expressed doubts Harden will ever win a title with his style of play - the extreme ball domination we saw fail again and again in the Playoffs. That was the first thing Harden was asked about during his All-Star media availability, and James didn't hold back in his response.
“I don't really understand what that means. Stuff like that I don't pay attention to—especially someone that has no credibility.”
James Harden, USA Today
We know Harden is sensitive about his reputation as a ball hog. From explaining himself to Curry years ago, Harden always tried to spin the narrative he doesn't want to play like that but has to so the Rockets would win. I don't think Chris Paul would agree with that.
The James Harden we see in Brooklyn, a guy who shares the ball and is an important part of a system, but not the entire system, could've shown up in Houston if he wanted to. I don't buy Harden pretending he didn't enjoy every second of it. Still, all will be forgotten if this new Harden, willing to share the ball more, wins in Brooklyn.
But even then, Houston fans will have every right to say, "It could've been us if get was willing to play this way." That will always follow James Harden.