James Harden, the superstar Houston Rockets shooting guard who came in second in the 2019 NBA MVP race, was stopped on his scooter by police on Friday during a week-long promotional tour in China.
Harden, 29, from Bellflower California, was pulled over by Shanghai police on a busy street corner after he went riding on a scooter with some of his friends. At the time of his arrest, it was still unclear what precisely he did wrong. Nevertheless, whatever it was, officials deemed it worthy of a ticket.
The Rockets guard and former NBA MVP had been in China for nearly a week doing various PR for the NBA. He had done a meet-and-greet with various hoops aficionados at the Beijing University of Technology and headed up a youth basketball clinic at the Tianhe Sports Center in Guangzhou.
Although his level of fame and notoriety in China does not match that of someone like Kobe Bryant, Harden is still a revered figure overseas and his presence was no doubt a treat for all involved. He had previously made trips out to China similar to t his in 2016 and 2017. In fact, Houston played preseason outings in China as recently as 2016.
Harden finished this year’s NBA MVP race second to Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee, much to the chagrin of overly emotional Rockets fans.
In 2018, he averaged 36.1 points per game and 7.5 assists per game, up significantly from his career averages of 24.3 points per game and 6.2 assists per game, respectively. In the playoffs, those totals dipped a bit to 31.6 points per game and 6.6 points per game.
Ultimately, the Rockets ended up losing in the second round of the NBA playoffs to eventual finalists the Golden State Warriors.
Following the disappointing conclusion to the year, rumors emerged of friction in the Houston locker room between Harden and his somewhat eccentric back court running mate, Chris Paul, a once tremendous player in his own right. Shortly after those rumors came out, word came down that everyone with the exception of Harden was very, very tradeable.
Up to this point, there has not been much movement on the free agency or trade fronts by the Rockets, but they are rumored to be heavily interested in acquiring Jimmy Butler in some sort of sign-and-trade deal with the Philadelphia 76ers. The pieces that would have to be included in that deal are unclear at the moment, but Clint Capela figures to be an integral part.
One of the things that nobody is quite clear on is why the Rockets feel the need to do anything at all at this point. After all, for the past two years they have been seen as the most serious Western Conference foes to the Warriors. Now, with Kevin Durant out and Klay Thompson likely injured for the vast majority of next season, the path to a Finals run seems more or less wide open for Houston – even if they don’t make any moves.
Nevertheless, the Rockets and Daryl Morey figure to be active as free agency kicks off this weekend and teams begin to make their moves to load up for next year.
Although technically nobody is safe, Harden is likely about as safe as any player can be given his unique combination of talent, youth, MVP pedigree and massive, massive contract.
It is unlikely that this little run in with the law impacts Houston’s summer at all, and it will likely be completely and totally forgotten as the team prepares to make its move to improve itself for the upcoming 2019-2020 NBA season.