Report: James Harden Rejected $103M Rockets Contract Extension; Focused on Trade

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistNovember 17, 2020

Houston Rockets guard James Harden warms up before Game 4 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Monday, Aug. 24, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Kim Klement/Pool Photo via AP)
Kim Klement/Associated Press

James Harden appears to be dead set on engineering a move away from the Houston Rockets.

According to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, the Rockets offered Harden a two-year, $103 million extension in addition to the $132.9 million he's owed over the next three seasons. However, the eight-time All-Star rebuffed Houston and "made it clear to ownership that he's singularly focused on a trade to the Brooklyn Nets."

Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie, New Orleans Pelicans guard Josh Hart and Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum were surprised to learn of the news:

Wojnarowski provided more details:

"So far, Harden's determination to get to Brooklyn has resulted in no progress toward that end. Houston and Brooklyn have been in contact, but so far have engaged in no meaningful dialogue, sources said. The Rockets want a massive return of assets for Harden, and are willing to be patient to find that in the marketplace. So far, there's no indication that the Rockets believe the Nets could deliver a package that fits that profile."

According to Wojnarowski, Harden believes his championship window is closing in Houston and Brooklyn offers him a "two-year play" to pursue a title. One source told Wojnarowski that this situation should be viewed as Harden's "AD moment," which refers to the way Anthony Davis forced his way out of New Orleans and to the Los Angeles Lakers last year.

Things are unraveling for the Rockets at breakneck speed.

The departure of head coach Mike D'Antoni was to be expected given what had preceded the separation. But then general manager Daryl Morey resigned, raising big questions for the franchise given how Morey wielded so much influence in shaping the roster and tactical approach.

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Less than a month after Morey stepped down, The Athletic's Kelly Iko, Sam Amick and Shams Charania reported Russell Westbrook wanted to leave but that Harden had indicated he was "locked in" for the 2020-21 season.

Things have obviously changed on the Harden front, with Wojnarowski writing the 2018 MVP "believes his window to chase championships in Houston has ended."

That Harden would turn down $50 million-plus annually shows how important the quest for a title is at this point of his career.

His decision could be a blessing in disguise for the Rockets, though.

It seems apparent that Harden is unwilling to drastically change the way he plays. One reason Houston acquired Westbrook was that his friendship with Harden could lead to the latter working off the ball a little more. Instead, The Athletic report laid out how Westbrook "wants to join a team where he can have a role similar to his prior, floor-general role in Oklahoma City."

According to NBA.com, only 5.6 percent of Harden's shots were catch-and-shoots, and 48.1 percent came after seven-plus dribbles.

More than half (55.7 percent) of his overall field-goal attempts in 2019-20 were three-pointers, per Basketball Reference, but his game is also partly predicated on getting to the basket and either drawing fouls or kicking out to open teammates.

By the time that $103 million extension would be kicking in, Harden will be 34. The 6'5", 220-pound guard isn't built like LeBron James. Without making some changes, it's hard to see how he can remain a hyper-efficient offensive player as he gets deeper into his 30s. The slight performance dip he usually experiences in the playoffs is a testament to how he wears down a bit by the end of the season.

Wojnarowski wrote how Harden's contract status allows for the Rockets to be more patient in how the front office handles his trade wishes. Ripping off the Band-Aid and starting over as quickly as possible—while holding out for a worthwhile offer—might be the best move for everybody.