James Harden may not be committed to the Brooklyn Nets for the long haul.
NBA insider Marc Stein (via Adam Hermann of NBC Sports Philadelphia) reported a move for Harden may not be out of the question for the Philadelphia 76ers because "there is enough noise circulating leaguewide about Harden's reported openness to relocation this summer."
Harden has a $47.4 million player option for 2022-23, so he could opt in with Brooklyn for next season. It seems more likely the nine-time All-Star will prefer to collect a bigger long-term payout since his earning power might be at its apex.
In October, he downplayed the significance of failing to work out an extension with the Nets.
"I don't plan on leaving this organization and the situation that we have," he told reporters. "So my focus, honestly, is just focus on the season and then winning the championship. The contract and all that stuff will bear itself out, but my focus is going to be locked on this season."
The Nets have had to contend with the drama centered around Kyrie Irving's vaccination status, but it hasn't impacted the team's performance on the court too much.
Brooklyn is second in the Eastern Conference at 27-15 and the current betting favorite (+260) at FanDuel to win the 2022 NBA Finals.
Similarly, Harden has shaken off a sluggish start to look more like his usual self. He's averaging 22.7 points, 8.0 rebounds and an NBA-high 10.0 assists.
The 32-year-old put together one of his best performances in a comprehensive 138-112 win over the top-seeded Chicago Bulls on Jan. 12. He scored 25 points—shooting 5-of-8 from beyond the arc—and dished out 16 assists.
Harden seemingly has everything he could want with the Nets.
For his eight-plus seasons with the Houston Rockets, he enjoyed the kind of power and influence he's unlikely to wield on a roster that includes Irving and Kevin Durant, though. The Rockets bent over backward to appease their best player.
Especially if he gets the championship that eluded him in Houston, Harden might feel more willing to examine his options. A reunion with Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey makes sense, or he could look to anchor his own title contender, much as Durant and Irving did with their move to Brooklyn.
When they traded for Harden, the Nets may have thought there was little threat of him leaving when he's eligible for free agency this summer. Based on Stein's report, it could instead be a very real threat.
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