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Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Healthy James Harden vows to return to ‘top of my game’

LOS ANGELES ( Associated Press) – James Harden is vowing to return to his high-scoring form after battling a rare hamstring injury for the three-time NBA scoring champion over the past two seasons.

He expects similar big things from the Philadelphia 76ers this season after taking a reduced salary in his contract to help the team improve and chase the championship it still craves.

Harden injured a hamstring while playing for the Brooklyn Nets in the 2020-21 season. The first serious injury of his 13-year career was “a wake-up call” with Harden contemplating life outside of basketball.

Finally healthy again, he is spending the summer in his hometown of Los Angeles. Resting barefoot in a fully furnished, nine-bedroom, 14-bathroom rental mansion perched on a hilltop overlooking Beverly Hills, with panoramic views extending to downtown LA, Harden is eager to put the past behind .

“I am looking forward to an incredible season,” he said on Sunday. “I just don’t want to go out there and run around and not be efficient and look old in there. I still want to be really, really, really good.”

Harden declined his $47.4 million player option for the next season with the 76ers and instead agreed to a new two-year deal that would pay him $32 million in 2022–23. This includes a player option for a second season. The deal has not yet been finalized and Harden did not address the talks.

However, the 10-time All-Star confirmed to The Associated Press that he made the decision to allow the 76ers the necessary flexibility to go after other players. Had he not ruled out the option, the team would have worked hard to strengthen their roster under the leadership of NBA scoring champion Joel Embiid.

“We needed to help us sign as many players for less money this year and it was very important to me to be the last team,” Harden said. “I wanted to show the organization, Sixers fans and everyone else who support what we’re trying to achieve, what I’m trying to accomplish personally, that’s what I’m all about. “

The Sixers signed free agents PJ Tucker and Danielle House. Harden has previously played with both in Houston.

“We got some really cool pieces this summer, so now is the time for us to work harder,” Harden said.

Harden averaged 22 points for Brooklyn and Philadelphia this season, the lowest since he became a starter in the 2012–13 season. He turned 33 in August.

“For any other players, it’s a maximum contract,” he said of his low number, “but it’s like, for me, I wasn’t the same James Harden.”

He relied on 3-pointers and free throws more than going to the basket. His usual pace was replaced by laziness and his mind was preoccupied with injury.

“I was unable to reach my place and could not reach where I wanted to reach without thinking, which eroded my confidence,” he said. “It was madness, but I’m back at the end. I’ll be a lot more aggressive scoring-wise, because my body allows me.”

The 76ers lost to top seed Miami in the second round of the playoffs. Harden had four turnovers, four baskets and did not score in the second half in the deciding Game 6 loss. They have not progressed past the second round since 2001. His last NBA championship came in 1983.

“Coming back and being aggressive, first the scorer and then the playmaker, is something I want for myself,” he said.

Sitting in front of an unlit fireplace with the mansion’s air-conditioning on the fritz, Harden drapes his knuckles on a wooden table.

“Looks like I had a perfect career,” he said. “I didn’t have any serious injuries, but that (hamstrings) slowed me down to where right, you have to start thinking about things other than basketball.”

Harden already owns the restaurant, Jim’s, and has a stake in a tequila company, among his various business interests. With a penchant for everything, he got into wine a few years back.

Harden spoke to the Associated Press to discuss his upcoming Jay Harden x Jay Shade Wine collaboration, which debuts in September. The label features his likeness in bold colors and sunglasses and his trademark beard. Prices range from $14 to $18 per bottle.

“We came to disrupt the liquor business, that was our mindset,” he said. “I don’t think any other wine is doing that.”


More Associated Press NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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