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#pounditTuesday, June 18, 2024

Ime Udoka addresses report that he nixed James Harden to Rockets

Ime Udoka on the sideline

Oct 31, 2018; Phoenix, AZ, USA; San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Ime Udoka against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

James Harden was at one point said to be very interested in a reunion with the Houston Rockets, but there have been reports that Ime Udoka stood in the way of it happening. The coach says that is not entirely accurate.

Rather than pursuing Harden, the Rockets chose to sign point guard Fred VanVleet to a 3-year, $130 million max contract. A report in July claimed Houston had legitimate interest in bringing Harden back until they hired Udoka, who was not in favor of the move.

Then on Wednesday, Stephen A. Smith said on “First Take” that he was told by a “very reliable source” that the Rockets were still open to acquiring Harden even after they hired Udoka. Things supposedly changed after Harden expressed to Udoka that he wanted to return to being a scoring champion.

Smith even went as far as to say the Rockets were willing to give Harden a max contract before the 34-year-old talked his way out of it.

According to Udoka, it was simply a matter of fit.

“Nothing against James, but Fred is just a better fit,” Udoka told ESPN’s Zach Lowe. “I coached James in Brooklyn. He’s one of the smartest players I’ve ever been around. The words ‘Ime doesn’t want James’ never came out of my mouth. It was, ‘Let’s look at the best fit.’ If we want Jalen (Green) and the young guys to take the next steps, we need them to have the ball. As for me saying I don’t want James, that was never the case. It was about fit.”

Both could be true. Udoka did not explicitly deny that it was his decision to stop pursuing Harden. It is possible that the Rockets were open to adding Harden to the mix if he showed more willingness to help lead those around him rather than trying to win another NBA MVP Award.

Some of what we have heard about Harden’s desire to leave the Philadelphia 76ers meshes with the idea that he wanted to be “the man” in Houston. It would make a lot of sense if Udoka thought Harden simply was not going to buy in.

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