James Harden admitted Tuesday that when he was essentially forcing his way out of Houston at the start of last season, his first choice was to be traded to the 76ers to join up with Joel Embiid and reunite with Daryl Morey in Philadelphia. It took him a year longer than he would've liked, but he finally got his way.
From the sounds of a detailed report from Bleacher Report's Jake Fischer, Harden essentially forced his way out of Brooklyn the same way he did during his time in Houston. Harden's growing apathy on the court and distancing from the team off the court ultimately left Kevin Durant, who reportedly was against trading Harden initially, with no choice but to sign off on the deal with Brooklyn GM Sean Marks.
Based on conversations with Brooklyn figures and those close to Durant, it's clear the Harden blockbuster trade for Ben Simmons wouldn't have occurred without Durant's blessing. As more and more Nets personnel faced the reality approaching the trade deadline that Harden wanted out, Durant's approval mattered more than anyone else's.
"KD didn't want to get rid of James," one person familiar with the two superstars said. "But he knew it was over."
"Kevin was like: 'F--k it. James isn't bringing s--t," another figure with knowledge of Brooklyn added. "I don't think that would have happened without Kevin making that decision."
For weeks he had grown weary of Harden's purported commitment to the franchise. When Harden first took to the bench with right hamstring tightness, Durant was among the Brooklyn figures who were skeptical of the injury's severity.
By Thursday morning, Durant dialed Nets general manager Sean Marks, sources said.
While Durant had initially resisted swapping Harden for Simmons, Harden had finally forced his hand. Brooklyn's spiral of losses and Harden's freelancing behavior created an untenable situation.
"Kevin's the one that pulled the trigger with this," another source with knowledge of the situation said. "Kevin's the one that said, 'Do this deal.'"
Fischer went on to note that Durant was "disappointed by the poor conditioning Harden sported during those early Nets practices," and that the absence of Kyrie Irving for so much of the season put such a heavy workload on Durant and Harden that the relationship became further strained. Durant and Steve Nash reportedly preferred a free-flowing offense, while Harden wanted to play his iso ball.
One of Fischer's sources said that Brooklyn coaches had noticed Harden "roll his eyes" when an after-timeout play was called for Durant. Another described the Harden-Durant dynamic as "a cold war" that "for the last several months made everyone miserable."
You have to feel for Durant, who might be cantankerous with the media and overly confrontational on social media but in the end is a pure basketball player. All this guy wants to do is hoop. He's about the last guy who would leave his team in the lurch because he won't get vaccinated. You're not going to hear about him skipping out on team flights so he can pop bottles at the club. He would never, under any circumstances, give anything less than 100 percent on the court.
Druant relocated to Brooklyn to chase a championship free of the Warriors way -- a move, for all the criticism he took, not too dissimilar to Tom Brady wanting to prove his merits outside the Patriots' system -- only to wind up with Irving refusing to get vaccinated and Harden taking the backdoor out of town.
More from Fischer:
Until the week of the deadline, Harden maintained his commitment to Brooklyn in conversations with Nets staffers, sources said. But he began distancing himself from the team with a similar pattern to how he forced a trade from the Rockets.
After posting an emphatic 37-point triple-double on 13-of-24 shooting at the San Antonio Spurs on Jan. 21, Harden left the team for Houston and a night of clubbing, B/R has learned. He rejoined the traveling party in Minnesota for a Jan. 23 game against the Timberwolves and scored just 13 points on 13 attempts.
Harden played against the Phoenix Suns in primetime Feb. 1, but that next night in Sacramento—which proved to be his final game in a Nets uniform—it became obvious to Brooklyn staffers that he was offering minimal effort, even less than he had in that subpar performance in Minnesota. He took just 11 shots and had more turnovers (six) than points (four).
When the Nets arrived in Utah for their fourth game of a five-game trip, members of the traveling party were openly discussing their desire to swap Harden for Simmons.
Harden didn't arrive at the Jazz game until halftime, sources told B/R. When it concluded and Brooklyn continued with its planned itinerary to Denver, Harden flew to Las Vegas, sources said.
When asked to confirm the account, one person close to Harden chuckled before responding, "That sure sounds like James, doesn't it?"
The short flight from Salt Lake City has made for frequent Vegas getaways for Harden dating back to his Rockets tenure, sources said. He would also stay behind following trips to Los Angeles and meet the team at its next destination.
By all accounts, Durant maintained that faith as long as he could. "Kevin always had a hope that this situation could get better," one source close to Harden said.
That is until Harden finally voiced what he'd been telling confidants for some time. He wanted to be traded to Philadelphia. He arrived on the Nets bench well past tipoff for the Boston Celtics game that Tuesday. Harden left Brooklyn on Wednesday and retreated to his old stomping grounds in Houston once more. While Durant and management labored over the Nets' impending conversations with the 76ers, Harden stepped into another night of clubbing.
"He knew [the trade] was gonna go down," the source close to Harden said.
Again, Harden was displaying apathy on the court and distance from the team off the court. Everyone knows superstars get special treatment and increasingly control the league as a whole but it's just never going to sit right to hear about guys completely blowing off their teams and teammates like this.
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The problem is it works. Harden wanted out of Houston, so he waited forever to report to training camp and completely checked out once the season started, and he got his way. Now, he wanted out of Brooklyn. So, he stopped trying on the court. He may or may not have started to exaggerate injuries, blew off the team to fly to Vegas and started showing up to games late, and wouldn't you know it, he got his way again.
It might work out for the Nets, who could potentially be better off with Simmons (who pulled his own shenanigans to get away from the Sixers) than they were even with a fully-engaged Harden. There aren't many situations in which you would prefer Simmons over Harden, but Brooklyn, given the makeup of that roster, might be one of them. Either way, this isn't a good look for Harden.
Not that it matters. Nobody has to like Harden or approve of his antics. As fans and members of the media, we all love the intrigue of guys switching teams and the league's power structure being constantly in flux. There's no way to say this Harden-Simmons swap didn't put a jolt in this season. We can't wait for the playoffs. Harden makes Philadelphia a legit contender. At least until he decides he wants out of there, too.
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