James Harden: Joining 76ers was always ‘my first choice’

James Harden 76ers
James Harden
Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

James Harden always wanted to be a member of the Philadelphia 76ers — even when he was getting traded away from the Houston Rockets last year.

Fourteen months later, the 32-year-old 10-time All-Star got his wish last week when the Brooklyn Nets swapped him for a package headlined by Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, and Paul Millsap.

“Originally, when I was going through everything I was going through in Houston, Philly was my first choice,” Harden said during his introductory press conference on Tuesday. “It just didn’t happen… I just knew for a very long time that this was a perfect fit.”

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Harden surprisingly forced his way from the Nets — which boasted a ‘Big 3’ of him, Kevin Durant, and Kyrie Irving — after frustrations boiled over concerning his use in the lineup, his living conditions in Brooklyn, and allegedly, the uncertain vaccination status that is forcing Irving to play in away games only.

“Just details I don’t really want to get into with the Brooklyn situation,” Harden said, though he clarified his feelings regarding Irving’s situation.

“[The impact on my desire to leave Brooklyn was] very minimal. Honestly, me and Kyrie are really good friends,” he continued. “Whatever he was going through and still going through, that’s his personal preference. But he did impact the team because me, Kyrie, and KD on the court and winning covers up a lot of that stuff. It was unfortunate that we played 16 games out of whatever it was, but it is what it is.”

Now, Harden is poised to create one of the most dynamic duos in the NBA alongside Sixers superstar center Joel Embiid, who is performing at an MVP clip this season of 29.5 points and 11.2 rebounds per game.

“We have the best big man in the league in Joel,” Harden said, who also alluded to the coaching of Doc Rivers as a big reason why he wanted to come to Philadelphia. “His presence alone is unbelievable. I feel like I’m the same way in making my teammates better and impacting the game at the highest level.”

“Having an MVP and a guy who’s on pace to probably be the MVP if he can keep it up is really exciting,” Sixers president Darryl Morey said. “All the hard work comes from here. We haven’t accomplished anything yet… Our focus obviously is to win now.”

And there’s no denying that Harden wants to stay in Philadelphia for the long haul, either. The three-time scoring champion revealed that he will opt into the final year of his contract next season to remain with the 76ers once he has the opportunity to do so after the season.

Harden is expected to make his Sixers debut after the All-Star break after his injured hamstring is completely healed. Then begins the pursuit of a championship — which is the only thing firmly in Harden’s sights.

“Hell yeah, it’s go-time,” he said. “The window is now. Joel is playing the best he’s ever played so my job is to help him and this team.”

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