James Harden Could Abandon the Brooklyn Nets This Summer for Reasons Beyond Basketball

Drama always seems to find a way to the Brooklyn Nets, even if they’re not looking for it. The latest bit of news involves James Harden, the newest superstar in Brooklyn’s “Big Three” who could also be the first one packing his bags.

Harden and the Nets have had to hurdle over obstacles like Kyrie Irving’s COVID-19 vaccine controversy and Kevin Durant’s sprained MCL. Somewhat impressively, Brooklyn is still 29-17 a little over the NBA’s halfway point. But according to a new report, Harden could leave town this summer for reasons the Nets can’t control.

James Harden has been a rare constant for the Brooklyn Nets

The 2021-22 Nets season has been eventful, to say the least. Irving was originally away from the team altogether after refusing to get vaccinated, but the mercurial guard is now suiting up on the road as a part-time player. Meanwhile, Brooklyn was hit hard by coronavirus, which temporarily transformed its roster into a collection of has-beens and who-are-yous.

But in the midst of the chaos is Harden, the bearded superstar who has kept Brooklyn from unraveling.

The Nets have been carried on the shoulders of Harden and the recently-injured Durant. The former Houston Rockets star is averaging 22.7 points along with a team-leading 10.1 assists and 8.0 rebounds. Harden has also been able to stay on the court, a rarity on this roster. So far the superstar has missed just five of Brooklyn’s 46 games, four of which were due to a stint in health and safety protocols.

Even though he’s shooting just 41.9% from the field and a career-worst 33.8% from three, Harden has still been a major factor in the Nets’ quest to secure the one-seed. But the stress of carrying the franchise, especially with Irving’s part-time status and KD’s injury, might be too much for the nine-time All-Star.

A new report sheds light on Harden’s desire to test the market

When the Nets acquired Harden in Jan. 2021, they envisioned a superstar trio leading them for years to come. But the journey has been a wild rollercoaster that suddenly offers a new twist.

Harden, the league MVP in 2017-18, is reportedly interested in exploring opportunities outside of Brooklyn this summer. The 13-year veteran, who has a $47 million player option after this season, has never been a free agent throughout his time with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Rockets, and Nets.

That being said, there are a number of reasons why Harden might want to become a free agent. According to Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report, Harden has voiced his displeasure with Kyrie’s part-time situation. He has also taken issue with head coach Steve Nash favoring fluid rotations down the stretch rather than fixed units.

But Harden might also want to relocate due to Brooklyn — not the team, but the area itself.

“His new city could also be an issue. According to multiple sources, Harden has not enjoyed living in Brooklyn, compared to his days as a central Houston magnate. Outside of the change in climate, the chasm between state taxes in New York versus Texas is quite obvious as well. “

Jake Fischer

Unless billionaire Nets owner Joe Tsai wants to uproot the franchise, there might not be much Brooklyn can do to satisfy the California-native Harden. But hey, the Beard could always try living in New Jersey if the city doesn’t do it for him.

Should the Nets explore trading Harden before the deadline?

If Fischer’s report is true and Harden doesn’t like living in Brooklyn, the Nets are in a very difficult situation. They can keep him for a title run this year and risk losing him for nothing over the summer, or they can try to sell high now and cost themselves a potential championship this season.

There’s already one team with its sights set on Harden — the Philadelphia 76ers. Daryl Morey, the Sixers team president, was the general manager of the Rockets from 2007-20. So his relationship with Harden could give Philly an upper hand in signing the star this summer, especially if he finds a taker for Ben Simmons. If the 76ers decide to kill two birds with one stone, would Brooklyn entertain a Harden-for-Simmons swap now?

All this being said, Harden is not wanting out of Brooklyn the way Simmons wants out of Philadelphia. The 6-foot-5 guard is committed to winning a title for the Nets this season. And if the Nets do successfully capture the Larry O’Brien Trophy, that could make Harden’s decision to test free agency much more difficult.

In a wide-open Eastern Conference, the Nets shouldn’t hit the panic button anytime soon. But it might be worth seeing what they can do to convince Harden living in the Big Apple isn’t all that bad.

All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference and contract figures courtesy of Spotrac.

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