It turns out that Ime Udoka may have something to do with James Harden suddenly pivoting away from a return to Houston this summer.
Steve Bulpett of Heavy Sports reported Friday that Udoka, the new Rockets coach, shut down the team’s interest in a potential reunion with Harden.
“From everything that we’ve gotten out of there, it was a matter that Ime didn’t want [Harden],” Bulpett quoted a league source as saying. “At the beginning, were they thinking about Harden? Yeah. But then they hired Ime, and Ime said, ‘It’s not going to work here.'”
Former MVP Harden had been linked to a possible return to Houston (where he played from 2012-21) for several months prior to the beginning of free agency. But the Rockets hired Udoka, the former Boston Celtics coach, in April and went in a different direction with their roster. They signed another star guard, Fred VanVleet, to a three-year, $130 million deal and gave out an additional contract so big that they were laughed at for it.. Harden, meanwhile, opted into his contract for next season with the Philadelphia 76ers and is in a standoff with the franchise as he tries to get them to trade him.
Harden is aging (turning 34 next month) and has the kind of personality that can commandeer an entire organization. There have also been serious concerns about Harden’s work ethic, so you can’t really blame Udoka for not wanting to deal with all that on his new rebuilding team.