As James Harden prepares for his first game in Houston as a visiting player after calling the city home for nearly a decade, the newest Brooklyn Nets star hopes the Houston Rockets' faithful will give him a hero's welcome on Wednesday.
"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 told ESPN's Malika Andrews.
Harden's current and former squads are on vastly divergent trajectories. The Nets have worked through the absences of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to emerge as an Eastern Conference title contender.
Meanwhile, the Rockets are 8-16 since the Harden trade on Jan. 13, which includes the team's current 12-game losing streak.
"I thought I would never leave that franchise," Harden said. "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."
The 31-year-old added that his departure "didn't go as well - as smooth" as anticipated, comparing his exit to those of other athletes who experienced simpler breaks from Houston.
In any case, Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta indicated on Tuesday that his team plans to retire Harden's No. 13 jersey at some point.
Harden, who began the year out of shape and seemingly disengaged, has bounced back since arriving in Brooklyn. The 2017-18 MVP is now averaging 25.3 points, 11.3 assists, 8.7 rebounds, and 1.2 steals per game through 22 appearances with his new club.
The Nets are 23-13 (.639) this season, and they're on pace for the franchise's best winning percentage since leaving the ABA for the NBA in 1976.