With Kevin Love and Kevin Durant both pulling out of the World Cup for personal reasons, Team USA is lacking in both size and experience. With just two players returning from the previous squad, James Harden and 21 year old Anthony Davis, it was very important for potential leaders to step up early in the process. According to Coach Mike Krzyzewski, one of those guys has been James Harden.
Here's what Krzyzewski had to say about Harden and his maturity:
James has been as good a leader as we've had for this team. He has a great personality. He is an upbeat guy, smart, and he's obviously very, very talented. With this group, especially after Kevin left, he has asserted himself even more as an older guy. I know him, he knows me, because we have worked together. He's really one of our key guys. There is no question about it.
I don't how maturity develops when I'm not around it all the time. I just know that he's one of the best players in the NBA. And having this responsibility here will only make him better. These guys get better after playing in this, because they go to places that they don't necessarily go to on their own teams, whether it be in a subordinate role at times, a leadership role, the key player, the good talker, or whatever. James checks every box. I love James. We have a great, great relationship. That communication between the two of us can translate to even better communication with the guys on the court.
Much has been made about his potential lack of leadership after the Rockets bowed out early in the playoffs with a disappointing showing from Harden, but this is encouraging news to hear. Harden is surrounded by young players, and this is his shot to really assert himself on a big stage. Against Brazil, he played very well, and seems positioned to be one of the team's go-to players on the offensive end in the tournament.
As was written at TDS earlier this week, Harden might have a message to send at this World Cup.
The Rockets are firmly his team, but maybe - just maybe - Harden's experiences at the World Cup will show him not to take success and rank for granted. The others are playing to silence their detractors. Rose is done, Curry is too fragile, Davis is too weak. And Harden isn't a leader. Is Harden going to let that slide?
We'll see how the tournament goes, and whether a leadership role on the international level can turn the tide on the discourse on James Harden.