Harden has apparently expanded his list.
After it was clear there was no traction in talks with the Nets, Harden expressed to the Rockets that he would be agreeable if a trade with the 76ers materialized, sources said. Harden also indicated that there could be other teams that fit his criteria for a preferred destination, a source said.
Houston hasn’t wavered in what the Rockets consider a fair asking price for Harden: a package that includes a young franchise cornerstone and a bundle of first-round picks and/or talented players on rookie contracts, sources said.
Harden expanding his list increases the likelihood of a trade from multiple directions:
1. The more a team believes Harden would re-sign in 2022, the more it’d be willing to surrender for him, appeasing the Rockets. Harden’s approval now is the best indicator he’d stay somewhere.
2. This shows Houston how badly Harden wants to leave. It’s not just a preference for Brooklyn. He wants to be somewhere else.
That said, there are other impediments to a trade.
Harden apparently wasn’t sold on staying with even with the Nets beyond 2022. That desire for flexibility is understandable. But it will make teams more reluctant to trade for him.
The Rockets have projected patience and significant demands. With Harden locked up two more years, Houston has leverage.
Maybe Harden partying rather than reporting will add pressure on the Rockets. They’ll certainly get more serious calls on Harden if more teams believe they’d keep Harden beyond 2022.
As for the 76ers, they’ve been organizationally committed to keeping Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons together. But that was before a superstar became available and interested in Philadelphia. I doubt 76ers president Daryl Morey – who acquired and empowered Harden in Houston – would prioritize the Embiid-Simmons pairing over Harden. Simmons is younger and under contract longer and for less annual salary than Harden, but Harden is better and probably better-fitting with Embiid.