Word is circulating around the NBA about James Harden‘s increased interest in testing the free agent market this summer, according to Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report, who says the Nets star has “clear intentions” of becoming an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career.
Harden holds a $47.4MM player option for the 2022/23 season, but the expectation is that he’ll turn down that option and seek a longer-term contract. The former MVP, who has always signed extensions prior to free agency in the past, expressed interest back in September in going through free agency, even while he suggested that his plan was to remain in Brooklyn.
“Over the course of my career, I’ve never been a free agent before. I’ve always just been loyal, just signing contract extensions, just being there, being there, being there,” Harden said during training camp. “I just want to take my time with it. It’d be a very, very difficult thing to leave here, or to leave Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. But I think this season I just want to focus on winning a championship and everything else will work itself out.”
On the surface, Harden’s plans to reach free agency aren’t a cause for concern for Brooklyn. The Nets will be able to offer him more years and more money than any other team, and he, Durant, and Irving make the team a perennial title contender. He’s among a handful of star free-agents-to-be – along with Zach LaVine and Bradley Beal – who can maximize their future earnings by forgoing an early extension and waiting until the offseason to sign a new deal. As Fischer acknowledges, Harden may very well remain with Brooklyn after testing the market
However, multiple reports this week have stated the Sixers are looming as a potential suitor for Harden, and Fischer hears from sources that the 32-year-old has recently told confidants he may be interested in exploring opportunities outside of Brooklyn.
Fischer shares a few more potential red flags for the Nets, writing that Harden has been frustrated by Irving’s status as a part-time player, as well as Steve Nash‘s fluid rotations. Fischer also hears from multiple sources that Harden hasn’t enjoyed living in Brooklyn as much as he liked living in Houston.
Fischer stresses that Harden isn’t asking for a trade and that he’s extremely likely to finish the season in Brooklyn. Beyond that though, it seems there are no guarantees.