Where does Harden trade stand at start of 2021? Same holding pattern as before.

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At some point this season, a team is going to talk itself into the need to be bold, push its chips into the middle of the table, and trade for James Harden.

That time, however, is not today. Or likely in the immediate future.

The calendar may have flipped to 2021, games are being played, but the dynamics that have kept a Harden trade in a holding pattern for the last month have not changed:

Houston continues to ask for a massive haul to land the former MVP and three-time scoring champion. Right now, no team is willing to pay that price.

At some point, Houston will be willing to take a little less and a team will step up with a bigger offer; that’s when a deal will come together quickly. But right now, nothing is imminent.

Houston reportedly wants a young, franchise cornerstone level player plus at least three first-round picks in a trade, and from its perspective nothing has changed, writes Brian Windhorst at ESPN.

The Houston Rockets — who have seen the ransom of assets that players such as Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday got on the trade market with only one season remaining on their contracts — have set and maintained a high asking price for Harden, who has two seasons and more than $90 million remaining on his deal.

The difference with Davis and Holiday was there was a team that desperately wanted that player — there was demand to go with the supply. The Lakers needed Davis to pair with LeBron James and gave up an All-Star in Brandon Ingram plus other good young players and a cargo ship full of picks to get him (a trade that worked out well for the Lakers). The Bucks needed to shake things up and saw Jrue Holiday as an improved playoff fit next to Giannis Antetokounmpo (and this trade worked for Milwaukee — Antetokounmpo signed a supermax extension to stay).

Right now, there is not a team that desperately wants Harden. Not enough to meet Houston’s asking price, even as Harden has made it uncomfortable for Houston to keep him around. Teams have concerns about how Harden’s ball-dominant style on the court will fit with their roster, how he will fit with an organization that will not bend to him the same way the Rockets have the past few years, and they know he is 31 and in a couple of years he will demand (and deserve) a max contract again.

Everyone’s favorite speculation game around the league is guessing which team will see where it stands 10-20 games into the season, realize it’s not the contender it thought it could be, and suddenly goes all-in on Harden.

It is not a coincidence that a number of teams such as the Celtics, 76ers, Heat, Nets and Raptors — teams that are in the “good not great” zone — have at least made a courtesy call to the Rockets, sources said. Even the Bucks, sources said, at least had an internal conversation about it and ran it past Giannis Antetokounmpo before deciding not to get involved…

Of course, the West has similar stories. The Los Angeles Lakers and LA Clippers might see themselves at the top of the contender list, but there are teams around them that have been dancing on the Harden periphery. The Portland Trail Blazers reportedly are monitoring, and so are the Nuggets, who have interest in getting involved in a deal even if they don’t end up with Harden, sources said.

Denver is more likely to be the third team in a trade for Harden, not make a move to get him themselves (the Nuggets are not taking the ball out of the hands of Nikola Jokic).

One hot bit of speculation is the Raptors. Toronto has started 1-3 with a sputtering offense scoring less than a point per possession this season. It also is a team that was targeting Antetokounmpo, but now he is off the table. Mo Dakhil makes a case for the Raptors in a must-read story at Bleacher Report.

Even though it has been just four games, Toronto’s offense has fallen off dramatically. Per Synergy, it’s down to 0.86 PPP in the half court and 0.92 in transition, and the team ranks last in offensive rating (97.8) and free-throws attempts per game (13.7)…

Few players can generate as much offense as the 31-year-old [Harden]. In his first game of the 2020-21 season, not in the best shape and with little practice, he dropped 44 points and 17 assists in an overtime loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. Then he followed it up with a 34-point, eight-assist, six-rebound night against the Denver Nuggets.

Harden had 33 points on New Year’s Eve in the Rockets’ first win of the season. He remains instant offense.

The Raptors’ trade package would start with Paskal Siakam and involve some players such as Norman Powell, plus draft picks.

Toronto is reaching a decision point: Break this team up completely and start a rebuild around Siakam and OG Anunoby, or make a bold move to bring in a star and chase another ring with Kyle Lowry at the point. We know from the Kawhi Leonard trade, Raptors president Masai Ujiri is not afraid to be bold (but will he make the same decision if he doesn’t have a contract for next year?)

Philadephia remains the frontrunner to trade for Harden in a package centered around Ben Simmons. However, the Sixers have started the season 4-1, and while their offense has been bottom 10 in the league so far this young season, as long as Philly is winning there is less pressure to make a major move. They can wait to see how their roster plays out. Brooklyn was where Harden wanted to go, but with Kevin Durant looking like his old self and the Nets have looked like a contender at points, they are going to let things play out.

Which is where every team is right now — even the Knicks want to see their roster for 10-20 games before making a move (and that move is not Harden… although never say never if James Dolan is your owner).

Harden and the Rockets enter 2021 in the same holding pattern they have been in for a month, waiting for the market to come to them to get a deal done. Right now, there is no trade close to boiling over on the front burner, no other team is stepping up to meet the Rockets’ demands. Houston knows it has some time, and it knows there will be some disillusioned front offices/owners in the coming weeks and months who will think big.

So the Rockets wait. As does Harden — and the rest of us.

NBA owners, players union agree to push back CBA opt-out date. Again.

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The NBA and players union are progressing toward a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). Just not very fast progress. In December, they pushed the opt-out date for both sides — when either the owners or players could opt out and end the CBA on June 30 of this year — to Feb. 8.

They aren’t going to hit that deadline either so the two sides have agreed to push the new opt-out date back to March 31, they announced.

“The NBA and NBPA have mutually agreed to extend the deadline to opt out of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) from Feb. 8, 2023, to March 31, 2023, as the two sides continue negotiations to reach a new agreement,” the sides said in a joint release. “If either party exercises the opt-out, the CBA’s term will conclude on June 30, 2023.”

There is one bit of good news in the talks, the owners have backed off the “upper spending limit” idea, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. At least some owners — troubled by the massive spending into the luxury tax of the Warriors, Clippers, and Nets  — pushed for an “Upper Spending Limit” for teams, which the players saw as a hard cap and a deal breaker.

As the sides pursue an early labor deal, a significant part of what has allowed discussions to progress has been the NBA’s willingness to soften from its original push for an upper spending limit on team payrolls — a de facto hard cap, sources said.

Still, expect changes to the luxury tax system to attempt to rein in the spending of some owners. There are a lot of economic concerns that will push toward a deal getting done, including this interesting note:

There are broader economic concerns looming for the league that are motivating factors in reaching a new labor deal in the coming weeks and months — including the potential bankruptcy of the Sinclair/Diamond Sports Regional Sports Networks, which is responsible for broadcasting 16 of the league’s teams on local deals. The longer labor talks linger, the more moderate positions among ownership can harden on financial issues and risk deeper difficulties on reaching a new labor deal.

The conventional wisdom has long been there would be no lockout and potential work stoppage because every side was making money again, the trajectory of the league was good, and nobody wanted to slam the breaks on that momentum. But there is always a risk, especially if the owners are fighting among themselves. Which is why a deal getting done sooner rather than later is best for everyone — especially fans.

Focus on body, conditioning has LeBron James on cusp of scoring record

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LOS ANGELES — LeBron James has prepared for this day since high school.

Maybe he didn’t envision this day exactly — the day he would break Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time NBA scoring record, something he is just 36 points shy of heading into Tuesday night against the Thunder— but LeBron was preparing for playing at a high level deep into his career. A career that has seen very few injuries (in 20 seasons his only surgeries have been LASIK and oral surgery in the offseason), very little time missed, and a lot of points.

Through all the years, teams and tribulations, LeBron’s focus on preparing his body has never wavered.

“I’ve just learned more about my body and how to prepare my body. But I’ve been taking care of my body since I started playing basketball,” LeBron said earlier this season. “Like, even when I was younger — you can ask any of my best friends growing up — before I went to sleep I would stretch and as soon as I would wake up I would stretch. I was like, 10 years old. In high school, I was one of the few guys that would ice after the game. My rookie year I was icing after the game, as well.

“But, as I got older and older and older, I started to figure out other ways that I could beat Father Time by putting in more time on my game and on my craft. But mostly on my body and my mind. I feel like if my mind can stay as fresh as it possibly can through a grueling up-and-down NBA season — which it is — then my body is going to be able to try and perform at the highest level. So, I’ve always wanted to maximize even the most out of my career and squeeze the most juice I can out of my career.

That level of investment in his body — financially, but more importantly with time and energy — has made his fitness routine a legend around the league. It’s the reason he is still an All-NBA-level player when the rest of his draft class — Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwayne Wade, Kyle Korver, David West, Steve Blake, Kirk Hinrich — have hung up their sneakers.

“LeBron is taking care of himself so well that he’s been able to play a bundle of games for a lot of years. And that’s what he takes,” said Spurs legend Gregg Popovich. “But he gets credit for taking care of himself and being able to be out there. The way a lot of players don’t even come close to. His commitment to the game and to what he has to do, has allowed him to be in this position.”

LeBron has made fitness and recovery a core part of his daily routine. That commitment to his body means he works out at least five days a week even in the slow weeks of the offseason. Get close to the season and into the grind and it’s seven days a week.

These are not ‘I’m going to jump on the elliptical and get in a little cardio’ workouts, these are specially designed HIIT workouts with his personal trainer, Mike Mancias, that target on different days his core, legs, upper body and other areas, plus mixes in yoga and stretching, and then a recovery program. It is holistic and includes a diet low on refined sugars but with enough carbs to fuel his workout and play.

All that doesn’t even include his pregame stretching and workout routine.

LeBron puts his money into maintaining his conditioning — his business partner and friend Maverick Carter once said LeBron spends about $1.5 million a year on not just trainers and a personal chef, but equipment such as cryotherapy chambers, hyperbaric chambers, NormaTec leg boots, and much more.

Does LeBron have a go-to cheat? Wine. But he’s earned it.

Players don’t reach the NBA, or especially, stick around, without an impressive commitment to fitness. Plenty of players enter the league with bad habits that, by season three or four, they figure out they have to dump if they are going to stick around (and get paid). LeBron’s focus, consistency, and relentlessness is on another level, and it is what has him as the best player the league has ever seen in his 20th season, at age 38. Nobody has ever played this well, this long.

“I think he’s gonna have the greatest career of all time,” Sixers coach Doc Rivers said of LeBron. “I think he’s already had it, you know, and I think Michaels the greatest of all time. But that doesn’t take anything away from LeBron. LeBron has had the greatest career.”

And he put in the work to get there.

On fringe of rotation, Sixers guard Korkmaz reportedly requests trade

NBA: JAN 17 76ers at Clippers
Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
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Last season, Furkan Korkmaz was a regular part of the 76ers rotation — he played in 69 games, started 19, and averaged 21 minutes and seven shot attempts a night.

With De'Anthony Melton added to the rotation this season, Korkmaz has played in 25 games (less than half of the team’s games) at 10.2 minutes a night when he does get in, and he averaged 3.1 shots per game. Korkmaz wants to be somewhere he is wanted and used and has requested a trade, reports Keith Pompey at the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Sources have said the Turkish player has requested to be traded before Thursday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline. Asked about it, Korkmaz would only say he “would not confirm nor deny it.”

Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey didn’t immediately respond to a text message asking if Korkmaz asked to be traded. But sources have said Korkmaz was informed the Sixers will try to package him in a deal.

Korkmaz is not the only 76ers whose name comes up in trade conversations, wing defender Matisse Thybulle also has drawn trade interest. The Sixers are looking for a backup point center for their playoff run.

Korkmaz, 25 and in his sixth NBA season, is a career 35.4% shooter from 3 at the guard spot, but his competent shooting has not made up for limited playmaking and poor defense at the NBA level. The Sixers went out and got an upgrade this offseason in Melton.

Korkmaz makes $5 million this season and has a fully-guaranteed $5.4 million on the books for next season. A fair price if a team believes the Turkish guard can help their guard rotation, but the market for him is likely limited.

Still, it’s another name to watch in Philadelphia as we move toward Thursday’s trade deadline.

After missing out on Kyrie Irving, now what for Lakers?

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The Lakers tried. Maybe not as hard as some segments of Lakers’ nation wanted, but Rob Pelinka and company tried. Los Angeles had serious negotiations with the Brooklyn Nets about bringing Kyrie Irving to Los Angeles, potentially giving them a true at-his-peak third star next to LeBron James and Anthony Davis. It didn’t work out — Irving is headed to the Dallas Mavericks.

Why it didn’t work out is a glimpse into the mindset of the Lakers’ front office — whether fans think they did the wise thing or should have pushed more chips into the center of the table — and informs what will come next for the Lakers.

The primary reason the Lakers’ trade offer didn’t work out was beyond the team’s control — Brooklyn wanted to quickly retool a competitive, contending team around Kevin Durant and the Lakers couldn’t offer the quality of players needed to make that happen. The core of any Lakers’ offer was two distant first-round picks — 2027 and 2029 — and Russell Westbrook, a player the Lakers moved out of the starting lineup. Dallas (and for that matter, the Suns and Clippers) could always offer a better version of what the Nets wanted. (It didn’t help that Irving wanted to go to the Lakers and Nets’ owner Joe Tsai didn’t want to send Irving to his desired destination, Marc Stein reports.)

There were other players the Lakers could have added to the mix — Austin Reaves and Max Christie — but L.A. was only going to do that if Irving agreed to a two-year, $78.5 million contract extension (the max the Lakers could offer), reports Jovan Buha at The Athletic. Irving would never accept that, his trade request was always about maximizing his income with a new team.

So where does all this leave the Lakers?

They can’t trade Westbrook without attaching at least one of those highly-valued first-round picks — his $47.1 million contract this season is still an anchor on a deal — something they are unwilling to do unless it brings back a true third star. That reduces the Lakers to making a smaller trade to bring in a role player that could give them depth and help them win a few more games, pushing into the postseason. The Lakers have reached out to Utah and Toronto primarily, Buha reports, although the entire league is waiting to see what Toronto will do at the deadline.

Kyle Goon at the Los Angeles Daily News sums it nicely:

But instead of an All-Star like Irving in return, the Lakers face figuring out if a package of role players can help them push toward the playoffs. Those have less glamorous possibilities attached: Mike Conley, Jarred Vanderbilt or Malik Beasley from Utah; Jakob Poeltl, Josh Richardson or Doug McDermott from San Antonio; Gordon Hayward, Terry Rozier or Mason Plumlee from Charlotte…

So Pelinka and the Lakers seemingly find themselves between a rock and a hard place, already committed to making another move before the deadline, but also without an obvious trade that boosts them to new competitive heights.

The Lakers are shopping around that smaller deal using the contract of Patrick Beverley and second-round picks but trying not to use one of those first-rounders, sources tell NBC Sports. Plus, if the Lakers are hesitant to put young players such as Reaves or Christy in a trade for a player the caliber of Irving, they are not about to do it for a role player.

The historic distraction of LeBron James breaking Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time scoring record will dominate a lot of the Lakers’ storylines, very possibly just past the trade deadline. That could be a good thing for the Lakers. But when the smoke of the trade deadline clears, Lakers fans — and LeBron — are not likely to be happy with the new landscape.