Report: James Harden prefers trade to Nets, declined $50 million per year extension with Rockets

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If the Houston Rockets trade James Harden, he would prefer to go to a contender. Harden reportedly considers the Brooklyn Nets and the Philadelphia 76ers his top trade destinations, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Harden, 31, could be the next member of the Rockets to leave the organization. Mike D’Antoni announced he wouldn’t return to the team in September, Daryl Morey stepped down in October and Russell Westbrook asked the team for a trade in November. Harden hasn’t asked for a trade, but reportedly has concerns about the future of the Rockets.

He apparently wants to leave Houston so bad, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, that he turned down a contract extension that would have made him the first player in league history to earn $50 million a year. Harden reportedly declined a two-year, $103 million extension on top the three years, $133 million left on his current contract.

That’s a lot of money to leave on the table.

Why does James Harden want to go to Brooklyn?

In Brooklyn, Harden would have the opportunity to play with Kyrie Irving and reunite with Kevin Durant. That trio — assuming Durant is close to 100 percent after his Achilles injury — would give the Nets plenty of talent. It would also be the first time since the 2011-12 season Durant and Harden played together. They, along with Westbrook, led the Oklahoma City Thunder to the NBA Finals, where the team lost to the Miami Heat.

With Durant out, and Irving playing in just 20 games, the Nets finished seventh in the Eastern Conference last season. The team is already expected to be much better next season, but would be considered a top contender in the East with Harden.

While Harden reportedly has his sights set on Brooklyn, neither team has engaged in “meaningful dialogue,” per Wojnarowski. Any deal, it seems, is still a long way off.

Why does James Harden want to go to Philadelphia?

The 76ers have been strong contenders for years, and Harden could be the one piece to push them to a championship. If traded to Philadelphia, Harden would presumably get to work with Joel Embiid, one of the best big men in the game. It’s less clear whether Harden would play with Ben Simmons, however. The 76ers may have to part with Simmons in any deal for Harden. Even without Simmons, the 76ers can still make noise in the Eastern Conference.

The move would also reunite Harden with Morey. After a few weeks as a free agent, Morey joined the 76ers to run their basketball operations department. Harden and Morey experienced plenty of success together in Houston, though they weren’t able to win a ring. A change of scenery could benefit both men.

Can the Rockets keep James Harden and Russell Westbrook?

While Charania suggests Houston is comfortable holding onto both Harden and Westbrook, it’s unclear whether that’s going to happen. Westbrook has already asked for a trade and could try to force the issue the longer he stays in Houston. If the team does deal Westbrook, that could be the one thing that convinces Harden it’s time to leave.

Ultimately, the team doesn’t have to trade either player. Both Harden and Westbrook are under contract with Houston for a few more seasons. While bringing both players back could result in another strong season, the Rockets could risk angering Westbrook — and potentially Harden — by standing pat.

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