Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press
James Harden returns to Houston on Wednesday to face the Rockets for the first time since they traded him to the Brooklyn Nets, and teammate Kyrie Irving does not expect any trash-talking to take place during the homecoming.
“There will be no tension and no s–t-talking going on the court or about James or my presence or anybody else’s presence,” he told reporters following Monday’s win over the San Antonio Spurs. “We’re coming to Houston to enjoy the game of basketball and play it at a high level.”
If recent trends are any indication, it won’t be a high-level game that comes down to the wire.
Brooklyn is 9-1 in its last 10 games and looks every bit the part of a title contender. It has gone through the recent hot streak without Kevin Durant, which means it will only be better when he returns to the floor and joins his fellow All-Stars.
Houston, on the other hand, has lost 12 in a row and has plummeted out of the playoff picture in the Western Conference.
Still, the basketball will take something of a backseat given how Harden’s time with the Rockets ended.
As Jack Baer of Yahoo Sports noted, the nine-time All-Star requested a trade that “hung over the team throughout the preseason and the beginning of the regular season, first when he skipped the beginning of training camp while openly partying, then publicly airing his grievances with the team.”
Harden expressed some remorse for how the situation unfolded during an interview with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols in mid-February.
Despite the drama at the end of his tenure, the 2017-18 MVP led Houston to the playoffs in all eight of his full seasons with the team. The Rockets twice reached the Western Conference Finals in that span and may have defeated the mighty Golden State Warriors in 2018 if Chris Paul didn’t suffer a hamstring injury and miss Games 6 and 7 of the series.
Harden is unquestionably one of the best players in Rockets history, and at least Irving doesn’t expect there to be any issues when he returns to Houston.