Jump off James Harden's bandwagon at your own risk
Others saw it as well, including J.A. Adande of ESPN.
These Finals have not gone down easy for the former ASU star. In four games he's made 13 baskets, been called for 16 fouls and turned the ball over nine times. Some have had the audacity to suggest it's time to shave the beard. Even worse than that; you've heard more than one comparison to Harden's similar deficiency during ASU's 2009 postseason.
In the Pac-10 Championship game (a loss to USC) and the first two games of the NCAA Tournament (win vs. Temple, loss to Syracuse), Harden shot a combined 6-27 and averaged just under 10 points per game. The USC game recap says he missed a free throw, a layup and a three-pointer in the final 50 seconds, a fact that I can't recall but…well…whatever. The Thunder had a similar lack of concern about Harden; they drafted him third overall and his NBA career has been a success story ever since.
The fact is, I am still firmly entrenched in the Harden- to-Phoenix camp. The concept is a two-pronged question. Could it happen? Should it happen?
It could. With the large extensions doled out to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the Thunder may have to choose between Harden and Serge Ibaka a year from now. It might be a tough choice, it might be a non-issue; as Jim Traber suggested to us a week ago, OKC could amnesty Kendrick Perkins in an attempt to afford to keep both Harden and Ibaka. Both could take less to keep the band together. I'll admit; the idea that Harden is available in a year is, at best, a shaky hypothetical.
The "should it happen" question has grown increasingly difficult to answer with what we've seen in the Finals. Is Harden a max money player? The performances in these four games say no. Everything else says yes and I'm still a believer. Suns coach Alvin Gentry said a couple of months ago that Harden might be the third best two-guard in the NBA behind only Kobe and Dwyane Wade.
Later that night Harden lit up the Suns to the tune of a 40-point performance.
Harden is hardly the first player to shrink in his first NBA Finals. LeBron pulled a Rick Moranis last year but is now poised to win the Finals MVP. Players learn, evolve and grow, and there's no reason to think Harden won't use these Finals as a springboard for just that.
Where he lands, nobody knows. But if it's Phoenix, that's just fine with me.