But why would Harden, who chose Brooklyn over Philadelphia just over a year ago flip now?
Harden has been vocal to Nets figures and close contacts alike about his frustrations regarding Kyrie Irving‘s part-time playing status. A recent injury to Kevin Durant has exacerbated the issue, leaving Harden to shoulder the majority of the offensive burden during Brooklyn home games.
Nets coach Steve Nash’s fluid rotations have also disappointed Harden, sources told B/R. Nash has favored hot-hand closing lineups, rather than a fixed crunch-time unit.
His new city could also be an issue. According to multiple sources, Harden has not enjoyed living in Brooklyn, compared to his days as a central Houston magnate. Outside of the change in climate, the chasm between state taxes in New York versus Texas is quite obvious as well.
It’s easy to see how Harden would be frustrated with Irving, who has chosen not to get a vaccine that has proven to be generally safe and effective at reducing coronavirus transmission and severe outcomes. Getting vaccinated would also provide Irving an additional benefit: Allowing him to play Brooklyn home games in a city with a vaccine mandate backed up by the NBA. Though Harden might want Irving partially available (as Irving is now) rather than completely unavailable (as Irving was earlier this season), Harden would probably prefer Irving be completely available.
Irving can say, “I know that I’ll be there every day no matter what and just be present for my teammates as one of the leaders on the team.” He has not been.
To be fair, Irving quickly deferred to Harden as the lead guard when the Nets traded for Harden last year. That went a long way in making the historically high-scoring Durant-Harden-Irving trio work. It can be easy to forget now, but there was plenty of – reasonable, I’d say – concern about the stars stepping on each other’s toes. Irving’s initial sacrifice ought to buy him some benefit of the doubt about his commitment to making Harden feel welcome in Brooklyn and helping the team win.
But, again, it’s easy to see how patience would be wearing thin now.
In defense of Nash, the Nets don’t have clear choices for their closing lineup beyond their big three – especially with Joe Harris sidelined. Yes, there’d be value in a particular five-player unit establishing chemistry. But there’s also value in playing matchups. Especially with several similar-level options. Besides, with so many absences throughout the season, there might not have been much alternative.
Harden became accustomed to getting his way with the Rockets. He was always going to have to share decision-making power when joining Durant and Irving in Brooklyn. It’d be the case in Philadelphia with Joel Embiid, too.
I wonder whether Harden at all regrets forcing a trade from Houston. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side.
Though not Texas, where there’s no state income tax, Pennsylvania has a significantly lower state income-tax rate on an NBA star’s salary than New York. However, Philadelphia’s weather is similar to Brooklyn’s.
There are plenty of other obstacles with the 76ers landing Harden, too.
Of course, Philadelphia isn’t Harden’s only option outside Brooklyn. With a player option for next season, Harden can use unrestricted free agency to explore the market. When joining the Nets, Harden ensured he wasn’t tied down long-term.
Harden isn’t requesting a trade before the trade deadline, according to Fischer. The upcoming playoffs will give Harden a highly important final impression of the Nets entering the offseason. Postseason success can go a long way in rendering prior strife as just a nostalgic part of the journey. On the other hand, postseason failure can exacerbate problems, especially blaming teammates and coaches. There’s little telling which Brooklyn will experience.
But if Harden’s baseline entering the playoffs is frustration, that’s pretty significant.