Clippers Are Harden’s Preferred Destination As Trade Talks Begin

James Harden‘s decision to exercise his $35.6MM player option and ask for a trade stems from displeasure with the Sixers over how they handled negotiations, according to Sam Amick of The Athletic.

Harden has a strong desire to join the Clippers and is optimistic that a deal will take place, sources tell Amick. He also hears that Kawhi Leonard and Paul George support the idea of adding Harden.

Amick cites a series of “silent signals” from the Sixers organization that led to Harden’s dissatisfaction. After turning down a $47.4MM player option last summer and signing for $33MM to give the team extra cap space to build its roster, Harden was expecting a generous offer from Philadelphia president of basketball operations Daryl Morey if he declined his current option and entered free agency as expected.

However, sources tell Amick that Morey’s position was to have Harden test the market before making an offer. With interest from the Rockets reportedly drying up, Harden feared that the Sixers would offer a short-term, bargain contract and that he would be stuck on the open market with no way to get the type of deal he believes he deserves.

A potential return to Houston had been rumored since Christmas when ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski broke the news that Harden was considering it. However, the Rockets decided weeks ago that Harden wasn’t a good fit under new coach Ime Udoka, according to Amick. Owner Tilman Fertitta, his son Patrick Fertitta and general manager Rafael Stone remain fond of Harden and are fans of what he can do on the court, Amick adds, but the organization decided to go in another direction with its $64MM in cap room.

Harden had been hoping to create a bidding war between the Sixers and Rockets to wind up with one last mega-deal — something in the range of $200MM over four years — according to Yaron Weitzman of Fox Sports. As of late May, Harden hadn’t communicated his intentions to Philadelphia’s front office, Weitzman adds, and there was concern than he planned to leave even after Nick Nurse replaced Doc Rivers as head coach.

However, Rockets executives have been letting the league know for several months that they weren’t convinced Harden was headed there, according to Weitzman’s sources. Also, per Weitzman, the Rockets have informed agents that they’re not interested in offering contracts longer than two years so they won’t run into a salary crunch when their young players start becoming eligible for extensions.

Amick reports that Harden had a desire to be traded to the Suns before they acquired Bradley Beal and that Kevin Durant was on board with the move. It also would have represented a homecoming for Harden, who played at Arizona State and still has a home in the Phoenix area, but Amick states that the Sixers never talked to the Suns about a possible deal before the Beal opportunity arose.

Shams Charania of The Athletic says Philadelphia has already started trade discussions and mentions the Clippers and Heat as the most likely destinations (Twitter link). He adds that there’s an understanding around the league that a player of Harden’s caliber will eventually reach his “preferred destination,” which seems to favor L.A.

Miami isn’t expected to aggressively pursue Harden, tweets Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald, who adds the Heat are preserving their assets in case there’s an opportunity to acquire Damian Lillard from the Trail Blazers.

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