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James Harden compares Sixers tenure to being 'on a leash,' reportedly expected to make Clippers debut Monday

'I'm not a system player, I am a system.'

James Harden will make his Clippers debut on Monday against the New York Knicks, starting alongside Paul George, Kawhi Leonard Russell Westbrook and Ivica Zubac, per Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Before that, he was as advertised in his introductory news conference with the Los Angeles Clippers.

Three days after the long-awaited trade that brought him over from the Philadelphia 76ers, the former MVP spoke to the media on Friday about the circumstances that led to his trade demand and what he hopes for moving forward. As many could guess, he had a lot to say about the leadership in Philly.

After calling himself "very elite as an individual" while also being great in a team setting, Harden laid into the Sixers front office, saying he gave up $26 million to play for the team and planned to retire there until they changed their minds, saying "they didn't want me."

The breakdown in Harden's relationship with Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey dominated coverage of his demands to leave the team, most notably when he took a microphone in China and pronounced "Daryl Morey is a liar." Another report Wednesday indicated Harden never plans to speak to him again.

Harden ratcheted up the rhetoric even further Thursday, describing his time on the Sixers as "being on a leash."

“Philly [was] just changing my role knowing I can give more, knowing I can do more, but if you want me to be honest, it's like being on a leash. Like, me knowing, in order for us to get where we want to get to, I was going to have to be playing my best offensively whether it's facilitating and scoring the basketball, and Joel [Embiid] as well. I never really had that opportunity. I think all that plays into where I am today."

It's easy to mock that quote given how Harden led the NBA in assists last season and was very much part of the Sixers' offense, but he also posted his lowest usage rate since 2012 (no doubt due to the presence of league MVP Joel Embiid).

When asked to expand on the leash line, Harden indicated it was more about communicating with his coach than actual usage on the court, while also dropping the most circulated quote of the day:

"When I'm in a leash, I'm not meaning shoot the basketball every time. I meant like, I think the game and I'm a creator on the court, so if I've got a voice to where I can [say] 'Hey Coach, I see this, what you think about this?' then it's all OK. Someone that trusts me or believes in me and understands me that I'm not a system player, I am a system.

"Somebody that can have that dialogue with me, and understand and move forward and figure out and make adjustments on the fly throughout the course of games, that's all I really care about. It's not about me scoring the basketball ... I've done that already."

Harden wouldn't be the first person to criticize former Sixers coach Doc Rivers' in-game adjustments.

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - OCTOBER 29: James Harden #1 of the Philadelphia 76ers looks on during the third quarter against the Portland Trail Blazers at Wells Fargo Center on October 29, 2023 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
James Harden is done with the Sixers. Will his time with the Clippers go any better? (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

Naturally, the "I'm not a system player, I am a system" wound up being the most viral moment of the conference, as many people ready to paint Harden as the ball-dominant team disruptor seized on it as evidence he hadn't changed. Which, maybe he hasn't, but the reaction sure seemed to vindicate an earlier pronouncement from Harden: "You're always going to take something out of what I say and make it into a different story."