James Harden's MVP-level season with Brooklyn Nets comes with a major caveat
There's an interesting wrinkle in the NBA's Most Valuable Player race this year.
Since joining the Nets, Harden has been nothing short of sensational. He announced himself with a triple-double in his Brooklyn debut and registered his 11th triple-double of the season in Wednesday's 124-115 win against the Indiana Pacers.
In 27 games with Brooklyn, Harden is putting up an average of 25.7 points, 11.5 assists and 9.1 rebounds per game.
That assist total is tops in the NBA in that span. His scoring clocks in at 18th, and his rebounding ranks 21st.
During Brooklyn's current hot streak, winning 14 of 15 games, Harden is averaging a triple-double with 27.3 points, 11.2 assists and 10.0 rebounds.
The 31-year-old's performances with the Nets have him in some rarefied air.
But that isn't the full story when it comes to Harden's 2020-21 regular season.
He famously forced his way out of Houston, all but mailing it in for the eight games he played with his former squad to start the season.
Harden roasted the Rockets after a loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Jan. 12, saying the team was "just not good enough."
Of course, while his stat line of 24.8 points, 10.4 assists and 5.1 rebounds in Houston wasn't anything to sneeze at, it was clear that the dissatisfied Harden believed he could play — and talk — his way out of Houston.
That mission was accomplished the day after his scathing news conference, when Houston moved him to the Nets in a blockbuster deal on Jan. 13.
Since then, Harden has been on an absolute tear, playing in 27 of a possible 28 games for the Nets. Meanwhile, Brooklyn's other two superstars, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, have floated in and out of the lineup, largely due to injury.
For Skip Bayless of "Undisputed," Harden has been masterful with the Nets.
But when it comes to the MVP discussion, Shannon Sharpe believes the bad from Houston must be considered along with the good in Brooklyn.
On "First Things First," Nick Wright took a similar approach.
"It's not fair to everyone involved to just pretend what happened in Houston didn't happen because it was this season. It wasn't the offseason. It wasn't last year. It was this season."
Sarah Kustok responded to Wright's plea with a case for Harden that went beyond the three-time scoring champion's dominance on the stat sheet.
"His numbers have been jumping off the page at you, but the little things that he has been able to do to try and help this team coalesce, I think, is just a small piece of why this Nets team has continued to find success without Kevin Durant. ... He's been exceptional."
Should Harden succeed in convincing voters that he's deserving of the MVP award, he'd make history with the accomplishment.
First, he'd be just the fifth player in league history to win the award with two teams, having won with the Rockets after the 2017-18 season.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Milwaukee Bucks, Lakers), Wilt Chamberlain (Philadelphia Warriors, Philadelphia 76ers), Moses Malone (Rockets, 76ers) and LeBron (Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat) all earned the distinction with different teams.
Further, Harden would join another exclusive club by being the fifth non-rookie to win the award in his first year with a team, after Abdul-Jabbar (Lakers, 1975-76), Malone (76ers, 1982-83), Charles Barkley (Phoenix Suns, 1992-93) and Steve Nash (Suns, 2004-05).
Harden could stand alone as the first in history to win an MVP with a new team after playing for another team the very same season.
There's still a long way to go before this year's race is decided, but there's no denying that it'll be fascinating to see how much — or little — Harden's Houston stint factors into the equation.