James Harden essentially went out of his way to leave the Houston Rockets last season, and he ended up getting exactly what he wanted by going to the Brooklyn Nets. Were his efforts all for nothing, though?
This year has been an absolute rollercoaster for the Nets after injuries to Harden and Kyrie Irving kept them from getting past the Eastern Conference semifinals last season. Irving missed the first few months of 2021-22 and is now only playing in road games due to his unwillingness to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Kevin Durant also recently suffered an MCL sprain.
So, Harden has essentially gone from a Big Three to a Big One (at least in home games), which has increased the chatter regarding his desire to test the waters in free agency this summer. And NBA legends Shaquille O’Neal and Dwyane Wade recently expressed their support for him doing so.
James Harden is reportedly interested in testing free agency
With Kyrie Irving’s drama and Kevin Durant’s injury as the compelling backdrop, sources have reportedly said that Harden, who has never been a free agent, is interested in looking at all his opportunities in unrestricted free agency this summer, according to Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer.
Fischer also wrote that Harden has been frustrated with Irving‘s part-time availability, and that he’s disappointed with some of head coach Steve Nash’s rotations. He also reportedly doesn’t enjoy Brooklyn as much as Houston.
When approached about the reports following the Nets’ 106-96 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Jan. 25, Harden said (H/T SNY), “I don’t know about reports. Did you guys hear from me?”
And when asked whether he enjoys living in New York, Harden frustratingly responded by saying, “Yeah.”
Whether he admits to the reports or not, the whispers regarding The Beard’s future will just keep getting louder. And they are at the point where other NBA legends are addressing them.
Shaquille O’Neal and Dwyane Wade support The Beard testing free agency
Shaquille O’Neal and Dwyane Wade, the former championship-winning Miami Heat teammates, recently appeared on an episode of TNT’s Inside the NBA. And it seems they support James Harden looking at his options this summer.
“Obviously, he’s not happy because when the team was first put together, they had championship aspirations,” O’Neal said. “… When you got one guy doing his own thing, a guy that’s really needed … it kind of throws the balance of how it’s supposed to be. When we (he and Wade) were in our mode, we had one balance, we had one voice, his voice, and we did everything right. … And we was able to win. Got too much going on. So, James Harden, he was made some promises. Promises not being kept, so he’s saying, ‘Hey, I’m out of here this summer.’ And I would do the same thing if I was him.”
Wade, on the other hand, said Harden likely has a “sense of urgency” compared to Durant and Irving. They both have at least one ring. He doesn’t.
“James is getting older, and to be as productive as James is … and besides him having the hamstring injury that he had last year, he’s been pretty available for most of his career, and so this is sense of urgency time for James Harden,” Wade said. “So, if he say he want to test free agency, that’s what it’s there for. … We don’t know what’s going on in the locker room, but what we do know is James Harden has been the consistent for this team.”
O’Neal and Wade’s co-star, WNBA legend Candace Parker, questioned the timing of these reports. The Nets are still competing for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, so why are we worried about next season?
And she has a point, but perhaps the team’s current issues are just becoming too much to handle.
James Harden needs to worry about this season but deserves to look at all his options in free agency
The fact of the matter is this: The Nets are just one game back of first place in the Eastern Conference. Once Kevin Durant returns, James Harden and KD alone can compete for a title together, whether Kyrie Irving is on the court full-time or not. So, Harden needs to worry about the present rather than looking too far ahead.
But when summer does roll around, he deserves to look at all his options.
Harden joined the Nets with the expectation that he, Durant, and Irving would compete for championships. Of course, no one could help what happened last season. However, dealing with Irving this year, someone who clearly isn’t as dedicated to winning a title as Harden maybe originally thought he was, has to be disappointing.
By the looks of it, COVID-19 isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. So, how long will Irving only be playing part-time? Will Harden have to deal with this again next year if he stays in Brooklyn?
We have no idea what the future holds. But the fact Irving is not fulfilling the (potentially unsaid) promise of competing for titles is enough of a reason for Harden to look elsewhere.