For much of the 2021/22 season, Nets guard James Harden insisted during conversations with general manager Sean Marks and team owner Joe Tsai that he wanted to remain in Brooklyn beyond this season, according to Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne (Insider link). And initially, signing a long-term deal with Brooklyn was Harden’s preferred option, since he could always force a trade down the road if he needed to.
However, as the season progressed, Harden began talking to various player agents to get advice about how best to make his way to Philadelphia, according to ESPN’s duo. As Wojnarowski and Shelburne detail, the Nets would often quickly learn what Harden – who has a reputation for being passive-aggressive rather than confrontational and was worried about the optics of making another trade request – was saying to agents and other third parties.
Finally, with the trade deadline fast approaching, Harden directly told Marks and Tsai that he would prefer to play for the Sixers, asking the GM and team owner on a FaceTime call to send him to Philadelphia, sources tell ESPN.
The Nets told him they would only make a deal if it was a good one for the organization, which Harden understood. While the two sides agreed at that point that Harden wouldn’t play until after Thursday’s deadline, the former MVP appeared to have already checked out on the team, according to Wojnarowski and Shelburne, who say Harden informed management he was headed to Houston on Wednesday to wait out the deadline.
Here’s more from Wojnarowski and Shelburne on the Harden/Ben Simmons blockbuster:
- Marks and Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey engaged in plenty of posturing in the weeks leading up to the trade deadline before eventually getting more serious late on Wednesday night, sources tell ESPN. Up until that point, Marks had listened to a couple of Morey’s trade pitches, but rebuffed them.
- According to Wojnarowski and Shelburne, when the two sides reengaged and eventually neared the finish line on Thursday, Marks told Morey he needed to hang up the phone to run the proposed deal by Tsai, prompting Morey to yell, “Stay on the f—ing phone!” Marks jokingly replied, “We’re dropping F-Bombs now, Daryl?” He ultimately got Tsai’s approval to move forward on the trade.
- Simmons’ agent Rich Paul met with Nets star Kevin Durant and Durant’s business partner Rich Kleiman nearly a month ago and pitched the idea of a Harden/Simmons swap, per Wojnarowski and Shelburne. Durant initially wasn’t interested in the idea, but the equation changed after he injured his knee and Harden became increasingly disengaged during his absence.
- Harden doesn’t have a direct history with Sixers star Joel Embiid, but has always been a fan of the center and pushed Morey to trade for him when they were both in Houston, according to ESPN’s duo. “James respects players who do a good job defending him,” one source said. “And Joel has always done that.”
- Although Simmons never got over what he viewed as a lack of public support from head coach Doc Rivers following last spring’s playoff loss to the Hawks, the two men had been speaking again in recent weeks, with conversations “increasing in substance,” per Woj and Shelburne. However, their final conversation on Thursday was mostly just an exchanging of pleasantries, sources tell ESPN.