James Harden has played a lot of basketball since entering the NBA in 2009. Over the course of his 10-year career, Harden has led the league in minutes played twice and games played once. He’s also only played less than 70 games in a season once (2011-12).
While a lot of that has to do with Harden’s health and availability, it also sounds like Harden just doesn’t like to sit out when healthy. After the Houston Rockets’ practice on Friday, Harden was asked about his thoughts on load management, and he told reporters that he doesn’t see himself taking nights off to rest like some players do.
James Harden won’t be taking the Kawhi route anytime soon
“Have you ever seen me not play because of load management?” pic.twitter.com/cCEaLOmY4h
— Michael Shapiro (@mshap2) November 8, 2019
“If I’m hurt, of course I won’t play. Even if I’m a little banged up, I try to push through it to a certain extent,” Harden told reporters. “I don’t know, have you ever not seen me play because of load management?”
The irony in Harden’s comments is that he’s notorious for struggling during the latter stages of the season, and one could conclude rest days during the season could help. In Game 6 of the 2015 Western Conference Finals, Harden shot 2-11 from the field in 43:15. Then in 2018, Harden went 2-13 from 3-point range in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals. In both of those postseason runs, he finished in the top-10 in minutes played despite playing the fewest games of anyone in the top-10, per NBA.com.
While no one but Harden can say for certain that the minutes and games he played in the regular season played were the reason he underperformed in the postseason, it’s easy to wonder if it would have made a difference.
Whether Harden agrees with load managing or not, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey has already said that the team will have “a very put together plan” for keeping both Harden and Russell Westbrook in shape for a deep playoff run. Harden and Westbrook are the two youngest players among the top-20 active minutes played leaders, per Basketball Reference.
If that plan involves rest and Harden looks refreshed in the postseason, he may reconsider his stance next season. For now, though, don’t expect him to volunteer to take games off.