James Harden Embraces Leadership Role in Quest to Win Championship With Sixers

By Matt Gregan, Sports Talk Philly Staff Writer

The marriage between James Harden and Philadelphia 76ers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey was always meant to continue.

"Originally, when I was going through everything I was going through in Houston, Philly was my first choice but it just didn't happen," Harden said in his introductory press conference on Tuesday afternoon. "I knew for a very long time this was a perfect fit."

Harden is finally getting his chance to play with the Sixers in front of "the best fans in the NBA, ride or die." His road to get to Philadelphia? He mostly dodged any questions surrounding the events that proceeded him informally requesting a trade out of the Brooklyn Nets organization.

Everyone knows Harden is a superstar player on the court. He is averaging 22.5 points, 8.0 rebounds and 10.2 assists per game in what many considered to be a "down year" for him. One thing he talked about in detail was his role on the Sixers off the court, where he plans on stepping into more of a leadership role especially around the young players.

He was seen putting up shots with second-year guard Tyrese Maxey on Monday after his first practice with the team. He praised Maxey's performance on the court this season in addition to mentioning how he wants to help him continue to get better.

"His confidence is through the roof. He's always attacking and obviously his three-point shooting is much improved," Harden said. "His aggressive mentality, to get to the basket and knock down his shot when he's open, explains it all."

He was also asked about how he would fit in with Tobias Harris, and he gave an answer centered around embracing a leadership role for the Sixers.

"Tobias is a guy that can go get you 20 [points] a night. I feel like it's my job to get that out of him. My job is to help be the leader, push guys and help get that swagger out of guys every single night because that's ultimately going to help us get to the end goal of winning a championship."

While it was incredibly important for the Sixers to find a way to add another superstar onto their roster, Harden seems to realize that he will be playing second-fiddle to All-Star Joel Embiid, who is putting up MVP numbers this season.

Harden is confident he and Embiid will be able to successfully mesh their games together on the court. In theory, the two should work well together especially when they run a two-man game together. Despite all the noise from how Harden's time in Brooklyn ended, he is confident in their ability to figure out whatever is needed to win a championship together on the court.

"They [The Sixers] have something great already going on," Harden said. "I'm just here to contribute and I know I can do that very well. On the court when you have high-level, skilled guys that know the game and all they want to do is win, we'll figure it out."

Playing with Embiid was not the only thing that attracted Harden to Philadelphia. He has an obvious familiarity with Morey, but playing under head coach Doc Rivers also served as a major attraction for Harden.

"[Doc is] one of the best coaches to ever coach the game of basketball. Why wouldn't I want to be led by that? … As the player that I am, I still need to learn. I still need to be helped and taught and put in a position to be successful."

Harden has no doubts about his ability to be incorporated into the team, something that will not happen until he is able to step onto the court for the Sixers. The team announced on Monday afternoon he will be out of action through the All-Star break to rehab a hamstring injury. He was asked about how his hamstring felt and went into detail about his conditioning and how his body feels.

“Hamstring feels really good,” Harden said. “Just doing a lot of strengthening work right now. It definitely was a collaborative decision on making sure that after the break, we were full go. Uphill is the only way we can go. To my conditioning, it’s great. I’ve been doing a lot of running, a lot of sprints, a lot of treadmill work, strength and conditioning. But it’s nothing like basketball conditioning, playing 5-on-5 and pick-and-rolls and getting hit and things like that. So that’s something I’ve got to incorporate. But overall, my body feels great.”

He will take the next week or two to continue rehabbing and getting into basketball shape. After that, it's "go time" for Harden and the Sixers.

“Hell yeah,” Harden said. “There’s a lot that goes into it. Obviously it doesn’t happen overnight, but just being here around guys, they have the right mindset. … But after the break, man, it’s go time. As much as I can incorporate and figure things out fast — and it probably won’t be long — the better things will be. It shouldn’t take long at all. I pretty much can fit in everywhere.”

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