Could the Nets’ James Harden honeymoon be ending?
While 76ers president Daryl Morey’s quest to bring Harden to Philadelphia is well known, what’s new is Harden’s growing dissatisfaction with life in Brooklyn.
Despite team-wide public support for Kyrie Irving, Harden is known to be vexed by the point guard’s part-time status. Irving can’t play home games due to his adamant refusal to adhere to New York’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, prompting Harden to openly joke he was going to vaccinate Irving himself.
Now Bleacher Report not only confirmed Harden’s “frustration” with Irving, but suggests Harden could wind up elsewhere this summer because he is “disappointed” by Steve Nash’s coaching and “not enjoying” life in the city.
With the Nets having failed to lock Harden up to a long-term extension by the Oct. 18 deadline, there is always the risk of him leaving in free agency. And the 76ers hover as a looming threat for a summer sign-and-trade, considering Harden’s pre-existing relationship with Morey from their Rockets success together.
Harden — still all-in on trying to win a title this season with Brooklyn — has spoken of being lured by Irving and Kevin Durant, turning down a chance to be the NBA’s first $50 million-per-year man in order to leave Houston and form a Big 3 in Brooklyn.
But as soon as Harden rejected a long-term max extension in October — after GM Sean Marks had earlier proclaimed that Harden and Irving would be “signed, sealed and delivered” by opening night — rumors started circulating.
And Irving digging in and refusing to get vaccinated compounded them. After the Nets initially sent Irving home, when Harden was asked if he’d spoken to his All-Star teammate, he snapped “No, I haven’t talked to him.” Then he brusquely ended the interview and walked off.
Even since Irving’s part-time return playing road games, Harden has repeatedly spoken of how the Nets need more from him.
“We need him every single game, because he’s able to do that, especially with everything that’s going on with our team,” Harden said after Friday’s win in San Antonio, alluding to the injury to Durant that has heaped even more pressure on him and exacerbated the Irving situation.
And when asked by The Post after the Jan. 12 win in Chicago whether he still harbored hope that Irving would play home games before the end of the season, Harden replied “Man, I’m going to give him the shot if I have to.”
Now the Nets are hoping Harden doesn’t walk this offseason. He has a $47,366,760 player option, and he had until Oct. 18 to tack on another three years for $161.1 million that would kick in for 2023-24.
But he did have a financial incentive to wait as he’s able to re-sign with the Nets next summer and break the all-time NBA record with a staggering $270 million windfall.
That’s a lot of money to leave on the table by bolting Brooklyn. But as the Rockets can attest to, Harden could walk away from millions if he feels there is a better chance to win a title elsewhere.
And there are other considerations as well.
Harden has reportedly been disappointed with Nash’s ever-changing rotations rather than a set crunch-time quintet, according to Bleacher Report. The story also mentioned the much colder weather and higher taxes.
Texas has no state income tax, while taxes on New York City millionaires are the most onerous in the entire country. The state tax on those making over $25 million jumped to 10.9 percent, with city residents facing an additional 3.88 percent.
Again, it bears repeating that Harden has never openly expressed a desire to leave Brooklyn, and the Nets would have to be willing to move him. And even if they were, it could take a complex multi-team deal.
Simmons was offered to Houston a year ago, and the 76ers’ wantaway star is oft-mentioned as the centerpiece of a Harden deal now. Morey also has 24-year-old defensive glove Matisse Thybulle to dangle, as well as all of his first-round draft picks through 2029 (other than a swap with OKC in 2025).
“Everyone’s cool with Kyrie,” the Nets’ DeAndre’ Bembry insisted at Tuesday’s shootaround. “He’s a down-to-earth person. So it’s open arms for us. We’re trying to get better, and obviously we can’t make up the schedule for him. We can’t make him take a shot as well, so those are personal venues that he has to deal with.”