Three Things to Know: Harden and the freedom a couple hundred million dollars can bring


Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks going that make the NBA great.

1) James Harden and the freedom a couple hundred million dollars can bring

Seventy million dollars may not be enough.

When the last Collective Bargaining Agreement was hammered out, the league and owners demanded extra incentives so teams — especially small and mid-market teams — could retain their stars. Teams with Bird rights for a player can offer larger raises, an extra guaranteed season, and a super-max deal for some younger players. It all looked good on paper.

Then came the new television deal for the league. Revenue skyrocketed and with that so did player salaries. It blew up the owners’ plans.

Enter James Harden. He is reportedly unhappy and considering bolting Brooklyn at the end of the season (he has a player option for next season). Tuesday saw a report saying Harden doesn’t like living in Brooklyn, he’s not the center of the universe he was in Houston (on and off the court), and the part-time nature of Kyrie Irving frustrates him. When asked about it after the Nets’ loss to the Lakers (more on that, or read item No. 2), Harden gave the non-denial denial of “did you hear it from me?” Which isn’t “I don’t want to go anywhere” or even “that report is not true.” Harden admitted he is frustrated, via the New York Post.

“Of course I’m frustrated because we’re not healthy where there’s been a lot of inconsistency for whatever reason, injuries, COVID, whatever you want to call it. I think everyone in the organization is frustrated because we’re better than what our record is.”

That frustration is where the $70 million comes into play.

Because they have his Bird rights, whether Harden opts into his final year with the Nets and extends, or becomes a free agent and re-signs with them, he would make about $270 million over the next five seasons.

If Harden left as a free agent — or agreed to a sign-and-trade to go to Philadelphia or any other team — he will make $200 million over four years.

That $70 million guaranteed is a lot of money. But it’s not enough.

In that financial stratosphere, money isn’t everything. Agents have told NBC Sports that once a contract gets big enough — say the $200 million range — the extra $70 million (or whatever number) does not always weigh heavily on a decision. There is so much money in play, true generational wealth, that getting every last scrap isn’t more important for some players than work environment, location, or a chance to win. (Plus, in Harden’s case, that $70 million is guaranteed money mostly from the extra year the Nets can offer, but if he plays that fifth year somewhere else he makes some of that back.) One agent said he would encourage his client to take the bag, stay and get the bigger contract, then force his way out in a season or two, but for some clients, they would be happier moving on now.

He is already set to make another $200 million at least — on top of the $268 million in career earnings he will have by the end of this season, not to mention endorsement money. Harden doesn’t have to chase every last dollar. The massive size of NBA contracts has set him free. He can go where he wants, chase the situation he wants.

Maybe that’s in Philadelphia. Maybe it’s somewhere else. Maybe it’s still in Brooklyn (if they make a Finals run, would he bolt?). But the owners’ plan of using financial leverage to retain superstars has been blown up by modern NBA salaries.

2) Anthony Davis returns, but it’s still all about LeBron as Lakers beat Nets

The Lakers got one of their stars back, while the Nets were down to just one.

Anthony Davis played for the first time after missing 17 games with a knee injury, but that didn’t change the Lakers’ storyline: The Lakers go as LeBron James goes.

LeBron had 33 points, shot 14-of-21 overall, plus had seven rebounds and six assists to power the Lakers to a win over the Nets. He also worked to keep Davis involved from the opening tip, and Davis finished with eight points and more importantly had four blocks.

A frustrated Harden did what he could, putting up a triple-double of 33 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists, but he didn’t get enough help. That is particularly true of the bench, which shot 11-of-32 (34.4%) and was outscored by the Laker bench by 10, primarily thanks to Malik Monk scoring 22.

Davis’ return is the critical first and most significant step in the Lakers turning their season around. The team was 7-10 in the games he missed, and Davis is critical to their small-ball lineups because he’s the best center they have — especially defensively — and it allows LeBron to move to a point-forward position. It may have been a shorthanded Nets team, but the Lakers played their best defense in weeks — LeBron, in particular, gave great effort on that end — and Los Angeles held Brooklyn to a 99 offensive rating for the game. It’s a start; that is the end of the court the Lakers have to clean up.

If you’re a Laker fan looking for hope it starts here: The Lakers’ big three of LeBron, Davis, and Russell Westbrook had played just 10 games together before Tuesday night, and never more than three consecutive games. When those three are on the court together, the Lakers outscore opponents by +5.1 per 100 possessions. If the Lakers are going to fix what is wrong with them, it will come from inside the organization, and that starts with some continuity and building of chemistry. And some defense.

3) Clippers come from 35 down to beat Wizards on Kennard four-point play

Somewhere in Las Vegas, a distraught gambler probably ripped up his Clippers moneyline bet to beat the Wizards. Los Angeles had made a little run in the final minute of the first half to cut Washington’s lead from 35 down to 30. This game should have been over.

But in the third quarter the Clippers got out and ran more, hit their threes, got into the paint and put up a 40 spot — which only cut the lead to 17. Washington should have been in control.

The Clippers kept pushing, but still needed luck at the end — luck in the form of Luke Kennard. First, he hit a 3-pointer with nine seconds to go that cut the lead down to three, 115-112. Still, all the Wizards had to do was inbound the ball and hit their free throws… except they couldn’t inbound the ball. The Wizards took a timeout after Kennard’s three, but then couldn’t inbound the ball as Kyle Kuzma took a five-second violation and a turnover.

Then this happened.

Ballgame. The Clippers completed a historic comeback and got the win in Washington.
Give Tyronn Lue credit for how hard he has this shorthanded team playing. Amir Coffey scored a career-high 29 points, while Terance Mann and Isaiah Hartenstein each had 16 points. The Clippers have kept their heads above water with their play, going 7-10 in games without Paul George or Kawhi Leonard. They are finding a way.
The Wizards have lost four in a row.

Highlight of the Night: Jonathan Kuminga is ferocious at the rim

I still have no idea what kind of player Jonathan Kuminga will be in three years, but there is no doubt the teenager has freakish athleticism. Tuesday night, he unleashed that on a helpless rim (and Mavericks defense).

Last night’s scores:

Denver 110, Detroit 105
Toronto 125, Charlotte 113
LA Clippers 116, Washington 115
Philadelphia 117, New Orleans 107
Boston 128, Sacramento 75
LA Lakers 106, Brooklyn 96
San Antonio 134, Houston 104
Golden State 130, Dallas 92
Minnesota 109, Portland 107