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Jump off James Harden’s bandwagon at your own risk

His game has abandoned him and in the onslaught of missed
shots and bad decisions he didn’t want to add to the
ledger. So he passed on a wide open shot.

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
. 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-
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.