Russell Westbrook isn't a horrible basketball player. But he's also nowhere near a $44 million player, and I'm going to go out on a limb and say he definitely won't be a $47 million player next season. In a salary cap league, you need players to at least play at the level you are paying them to have a chance to win, and from that point of view, Westbrook is one of the worst players in the NBA (again, relative to his salary). Booby Marks and Tim Bontemps of ESPN argue James Harden is next in line for that title.
It's no secret James Harden is not the Houston Rockets MVP Harden anymore. Father time is creeping up, and while some guys spend millions on nutrition and recovery, others spend it at the strip clubs. It takes a lot of work to stay healthy once you develop a hamstring problem. Chris Paul switched to a vegan diet and reportedly spends over a million dollars a year just to make sure he doesn't have yet another hamstring issue in the playoffs. If you don't, as we can see, the hamstring always pops up in the worst time possible.
Everyone has off nights, but Harden's 4 point, 2-11 performance against the Kings seems more like a continuation of a trend than an outlier. It only takes to lost a bit of your speed, become half step slower, and suddenly you're not unguardable. With his looming free agency and all the rumors of a move to Philly, the idea of paying Harden hundreds of millions of dollars late into his thirties doesn't seem like a no-brainer move anymore.
Marks: Two years from now, we will be talking about James Harden the way we talk about John Wall and Russell Westbrook
Bontemps: I'm gonna go a step further. If you watch James Harden play now, he’s a better shooting version of Russell Westbrook.
Bobby Marks and Tim Bontemps, The Lowe Post
If your first reaction is "Well a better shooting version of Russell Westbrook is a very good player," you're in line with Zach Lowe. Bontemps agreed with that but pointed out all the things you are not if you are a better shooting Westbrook - all the things that should make the 76ers stay away. ”He's a good player but he has the same flaws. When he's on offense and he doesn't have the ball, he [just] stands there, he doesn't move. On defense, he's never been very good. The one thing he does do in terms of switching, you can't do if you have Embiid, because Joel is playing in the drop [coverage], and he's gonna be by the rim.”
Lowe pushed back once again, vehemently disagreeing with the comparison, saying it's "apples to oranges." But Bontemps wouldn't give in and made his final point. ��It's a player that if you're trying to win 45-50 games, is a really good player to have. If it's a player you're trying to add to win championships, it's not a player that's gonna help you do that.”
Right after "defense wins championships," most coaches will tell you an aging superstar is one of the most difficult kinds of players to manage. In the modern NBA, GMs will agree. Guys like Westbrook (and maybe soon Harden) expect only max money, yet their production doesn't justify it anymore. Keep in mind Brodie is the highest-paid Laker on the roster - he makes more than LeBron or AD.
Even more so, once they lose 10% of their athleticism, those guys rarely reinvent themselves or suddenly start to put in the effort on defense. The moment James Harden can't blow by defenders and thus defending his shot becomes easier, his lack of movement on offense and horrible effort on defense become extremely problematic.
Similar to Westbrook, or for instance Isaiah Thomas, the moment those guys stop being out worldly in their best skill, their game crumbles like a house of cards - particularly in the context of their salary. Given he's a shooter, I don't think Harden will age as poorly as Westbrok is. But it's not completely insane that in a very short time, he may start popping out on the list of the worst contract in the NBA.
How the mighty have fallen.