Brooklyn Nets star James Harden will return to Houston on Wednesday for the first time since being traded by the Rockets in January.
The three-time scoring champion sat down for an interview with ESPN's Malika Andrews and said that he hopes to be "received with love" when he enters the Toyota Center.
"The love and the appreciation that I've given to that city and that I still give to that city, I'm hoping that the favor can be returned," Harden said. "I thought I would never leave that franchise. I thought I was going to be in Houston, obviously, for the rest of my career. Things happened. I've got different goals, and I've seen a different vision for myself and my career and my family."
Harden's eight-year tenure in Houston ended on a sour note. Before being traded, the 31-year-old criticized the Rockets after a blowout loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, saying the team "can't be fixed." He also skipped part of training camp while partying in Atlanta and quit on the team in his final moments, averaging just 20 points per game in his last four contests.
After he was traded to the Nets, Harden said he "wasn't disrespectful to anyone" in Houston and also admitted that carrying the Rockets' scoring load was "draining."
Harden told ESPN that he's "very, very happy and excited" about the direction the Nets are headed. With Harden, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant available, Brooklyn is nearly unbeatable. The team is second in the Eastern Conference with a 23-13 record and could very well move into first in the East before the All-Star break.
Since joining the Nets, Harden is averaging 25.3 points, 8.7 rebounds and a career-high 11.3 assists per game while shooting 49% from the field and 41.9% from deep. While he's not averaging the 30-plus points per game he did while in Houston, Harden has been very effective at facilitating play. Irving even admitted that he ceded ball-handling duties to the nine-time All-Star.
Although his career in Houston is long gone, the Rockets plan to honor Harden by retiring his No. 13. He will be the seventh player to have his number retired by the Rockets, joining Calvin Murphy, Moses Malone, Hakeem Olajuwon, Rudy Tomjanovich, Clyde Drexler and Yao Ming.