When Philadelphia 76ers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey contacted Brooklyn Nets general manager Sean Marks on Jan. 11, they began the usual jokes of basketball executives that there was still a month to go. Thursday’s NBA trade limit.
Who do you like from our roster? Here’s who I like in yours.
Eventually, Morey spoke about the true intent of his call.
“What about James?”
“James who?” Mark answered.
The Nets have two Jameses: Johnson and Harden.
“No,” Marks said flatly.
That exchange four weeks ago represents the only direct communication between Morey and Marks this season, sources told ESPN. Brief as the conversation was, messages were sent in each direction: The Sixers planned to go after Harden and the Nets had no intention of giving up.
With three days to go before the trade deadline, this is where the dialogue has been held. Yes, Morey could still pick up the phone and call Marks this week. The Sixers’ ownership group has a strong relationship with Nets owner Joe Tsai, so communication can happen at that level as well.
For now, the lack of clarity focused on Harden’s intentions represents the linchpin on which circumstances could change in the Nets’ murky association with him. Harden may become a free agent after this season, and while he continues to tell his Nets teammates, coaches and management that he’s committed to winning in Brooklyn for the long haul, his actions on and off the court suggest another thing.
Harden hasn’t had an agent in several years, but he does have a “business manager,” Lorenzo McCloud. When Harden wanted to leave Houston before the 2020 season, he tasked agents Jason Ranne and Chafie Fields at Wasserman with working with the Houston Rockets and opposing teams to facilitate a trade. They played a key role in getting Harden to the Nets, and then the employment relationship ended in March 2021, sources said.
Once again, sources told ESPN that Harden and his manager have been looking for an agent to partner with and handle the situation, whether it’s free agency, a trade to leave the Nets after the season, staying on a new contract. or even a trade before Thursday’s deadline.
When Harden considered signing an extension last summer, he handled it the way he had in his last two deals in Houston: discussing the pros and cons of different contract iterations with the National Basketball Players Association. That’s why he didn’t want to pay an agent’s commission; he was a superstar player who needed no negotiation. He could choose his preferred maximum contract from a menu in the same way that another person could choose a plan.
Ultimately, Harden did not sign an extension with the Nets, and in late September, he told ESPN’s Malika Andrews that he was looking forward to becoming a free agent for the first time in his career. Before that, he insisted that he was focused on winning a championship with Brooklyn.
So far, the season hasn’t lived up to those expectations. Vaccination status against COVID-19 Kyrie Irving has made him a part-time player in New York, Kevin Durant he’s been out for nearly a month with a knee injury and Brooklyn has dropped to seventh in the Eastern Conference after an eight-game losing streak.
Harden has missed the last two games with a hamstring injury after a listless four-point performance in a loss to Sacramento last Wednesday.
Still, saying he’s engaged isn’t nearly as convincing as proving it, and that’s something Harden has barely done lately.
Harden’s private complaints about the Nets’ coaches, teammates and organization have made their way around the league, but those who have worked with him in the past understand that’s how he works in tough times with him. . Almost anyone who has spent any considerable time with Harden in the NBA admits that he is quick to blame others, and rarely himself.
— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) February 4, 2022
The Nets’ leadership is confident that the momentum of the season will change once Durant returns, perhaps after the All-Star break, and the load eases on Harden and Irving. Durant has significant influence in the organization, but he doesn’t tell Tsai and Marks what to do at the trade deadline, sources added. Durant still wants Harden, sources said, but he wants a committed Harden.
The Nets and Sixers privately believe they each have significant influence when it comes to Harden. The Sixers would like to offer a trade package beyond the exiled star Ben Simmons because they believe the Nets risk losing Harden for nothing in the summer. The Nets would want a massive package beyond Simmons, because Philadelphia can’t acquire Harden without offloading significant talent and draft assets to create salary-cap space for free agency. The Sixers have $133 million on the books for the 2022-23 season, and creating the space to sign him would require offloading multiple players and draft picks.
“Why would Brooklyn accept anything less now than the assets it would cost Philly to get rid of the contracts and create the space this summer?” an NBA general manager asked ESPN.
The great moment of the Sixers (32-21) behind the MVP candidate Joel Embid it seems to have strengthened his resolve to wait for Harden, if not at the trade deadline, then in the offseason. Because even as Harden tells the Nets he wants to stay long-term, two people with significant history and relationships with him — Sixers minority owner Michael Rubin and Morey — believe Harden is interested in playing in Philadelphia, they concluded. the sources.
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Sources: Nets dismissed 76ers interest in Harden