James Harden is not the swing the Knicks need to take

Mike Vaccaro


June 29, 2023 | 19:38

The Knicks did a smart and terribly savvy thing ahead of Thursday afternoon.

It may have been Josh Hart agreeing to his $12.9 million player option that made the transaction move, but in the time since Hart and the Knicks agreed to extend the deadline for that decision earlier this week, it’s only logical to assume that no discussion was given. to the fact that by signing up now, Hart is eligible for a big-money extension in August.

It’s good for Hart and for the Knicks. What’s even better for the Knicks is that it frees up the $12.4 million mid-level exception, which adds to Leon Rose’s options as free agency begins on real Friday at 18. DiVincenzo, who officially opted out of his deal in Golden State on Thursday.

(Next from the Villanova conveyor belt: Bill Melchionni, EZ Ed Pinckney and Jay Wright. We josh because of Josh — and Jalen, and maybe Donte, too.)

You know what’s not fun?

Like, even a little bit of fun?

New York is one of James Harden’s possible landing spots.
NBAE via Getty Images

An item that electrified social media late at 4 o’clock Thursday, following James Harden’s surprise decision to opt-in to the final year of his $35.6 million deal in Philly, with the understanding that he and the Sixers will work together and make a deal to send Harden elsewhere.

The Clippers quickly emerged as a possible suitor, which makes some sense as the Kawhi Leonard/Paul George window closes, with a new building in Inglewood looming.

What made no sense was what followed at 4:53 p.m., when ESPN’s accomplished NBA breaking newsman Adrian Wojnarowski — not exactly a journalist known for casually hurling spaghetti at walls — reported that the Knicks were also expected to be engaged in talks for Harden.

No. It’s not fun at all.

This is not the place to address Harden’s career as a whole, just the form he would be for the Knicks. And that answer is simple: It would be an idiotic decision to bring him here.

Forget his age (34 in August). Forget his career-long inability to come close to matching his many Hall-of-Fame-worthy regular-season glories in the postseason. Hell: forget the fact that New York has already seen — and quickly grown tired of — his act during his brief stint as part of the alleged Big 3 in Brooklyn.

It really is that simple:

The Knicks’ best player is Jalen Brunson. At his best — and at the Knicks’ best with him — the ball in his hands is a preponderance of the time. He is the foundational piece around which the Knicks’ future is built, and in his first year carrying that burden, he delivered in spectacular fashion. Madison Square Garden adores him. On merit.

James Harden and head coach Doc Rivers of the Philadelphia 76ers.
NBAE via Getty Images

Harden’s game is a ball-centric game. At worst, that’s a euphemism for “selfish,” but even at its best, it means he’s the nexus of any offense that he operates in. And that just won’t work here. Not with Brunson. And not without causing a fundamental shift in the way the Knicks conduct their business.

Also: Harden was clearly incompatible with Doc Rivers in Philly; now we’re expected to believe that he and Tom Thibodeau – a close Doc ally – will get along like Hope and Crosby? When no fewer than five hilarious compilations come up on Google when you type in “bad Harden defensive GIFs?”

It’s madness, is what it is, and it would be almost unworthy of contempt, except if that reporter reported that news… well, it’s out there somewhere. That doesn’t mean it’s out there in Leon Rose’s mind, and there’s nothing about the way Rose has run his business that tells you that this agreement for this the player is the one.

A saving grace? If the Knicks are involved, but only as a conduit to execute a three-team trade. And if that means the Knicks are able to land one of their offseason wish list names, George, then the fever dream of Harden slipping a Knicks jersey over a business suit will have been worth the trouble and stress. And you can simply delete the previous seven sections.

At the end of it all, all Knicks fans can have faith in is that Rose — who, if nothing else, has shown an affinity for patience, if sometimes to a frustrating fault — realizes how ridiculous the notion of Harden at Penn Plaza would be.

It must be a depressing time to be a GM in search of a star, the upcoming free-agency bazaar promising zero in the way of needle-moving difference-makers. Keeping Hart keeps the Knicks whole. Adding DiVincenzo would make the Knicks better. Paul George? Hell, what is NBA July for if not dreaming?

James Harden? It is not a dream by any means. Not for the Knicks, not for the Garden. Never ever.

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