Inside James Harden and the Houston Rockets' breaking point

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For years, Houston considered it good business to do whatever James Harden wanted. Now the franchise is dealing with the fallout.
Chiney Ogwumike and Mike Golic Jr. react to James Harden being traded to the Nets and teaming up with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. (2:31)

Editor's note: This story was originally published on Dec. 16, 2020. The Houston Rockets have traded James Harden to the Brooklyn Nets, sources tell ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne.

THE HOUSTON ROCKETS' culture in the James Harden era, which bridges two owners and now four head coaches, might be best summed up by a former staffer's three words:

"Whatever James wants."

Unless they were on the front end of a back-to-back set, it was essentially a sure thing that the Rockets stayed overnight -- or even an extra day -- after games in Los Angeles, Phoenix and other road cities that rank among Harden's favorite stops.

If the Rockets had two or three days between games, it was a good bet Harden would call for an off day and charter a private jet to party in Las Vegas or another city. He always gets an excused absence from the first practice after the All-Star break for the same reason.

"Just James being James," those currently within the franchise say. But these circumstances are drastically different than at any previous point of the perennial All-Star's eight-year Houston tenure.

Harden has pushed the Rockets to upgrade every offseason, saying he would want to be traded if they couldn't contend, sources said. And he had final say on things beyond just travel and practice schedules as well. He could call the shots on personnel moves, both on the roster and the coaching staff, a power he flexed to push for the firing of head coach Kevin McHale and departures of co-stars Dwight Howard and Chris Paul, sources said.

And the Rockets considered it good business to do what Harden wanted to keep a historically elite player happy. But when Harden tried to rush the Rockets to trade him in recent weeks despite the lack of an offer that they considered fair value, it wasn't the annual ultimatum for improvement. It was…
Tim MacMahon
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