Report: Harden not frustrated with Irving as much as Nets in general

Brooklyn Nets v Phoenix Suns
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This was not what James Harden signed up for.

At least, that’s his thinking as Harden has become open to the possibility of leaving the Nets — something that could force the team to trade him before the Feb. 10 deadline. Maybe to Philadelphia for Ben Simmons.

While previous reports suggested Harden was frustrated with unvaccinated Kyrie Irving‘s part-time status, Alex Schiffer of The Athletic says it’s broader than that.

While Harden has thrown hints that he’s not crazy about Irving’s part-time status, a source with knowledge of Harden’s thinking said he’s frustrated in general with his Nets tenure. He came to Brooklyn expecting to be part of a three-headed monster, yet has played a similar role to what was required of him in Houston: having to be the guy. While Irving’s part-time status is unprecedented, a source aware of the team’s thinking said the 6-foot-2 point guard’s situation hasn’t been as much of a problem as one would expect because he’s played hard when available, albeit in a limited capacity.

There are plenty of reports the Nets are in no rush to make a Harden trade, nor should they be. If you buy the old Daryl Morey line that chemistry is a three-game winning streak, the Nets can look ahead to Durant returning, this team getting healthy and entering the playoffs a legitimate contender. Right now things are bleak in the midst of a three-game losing streak, but that’s not a reason to hit the panic button.

Even if Harden wants out this offseason, the only teams with the cap space to sign him as a free agent are rebuilding ones. Teams such as the 76ers — or any other potential contender — would have to do a sign-and-trade, and the Nets can get players and picks back. For the Nets, it’s all about the return, and that could be as good around the draft or in July as it is now.

The pressure is on the 76ers, no matter what they are leaking now. Philadelphia does not have the cap space to sign Harden as a free agent, and a sign-and-trade in July hard caps the 76ers and forces Morey to cut payroll to get under that line. Harden opting in then getting traded to Philly in the offseason would set off tampering alarms. From the 76ers perspective, the best move is a deadline trade, then Harden can opt-into the final year of his contract and they can give him a four-year extension, and Harden will make about $270 million over the five years.

The Nets know that’s the best option for the 76ers, so they are demanding Tyrese Maxey (not happening) or Matisse Thybulle (an elite defensive player and a high price) as part of the trade. As John Hollinger notes in the Athletic piece, Philly probably wants to send out Simmons and Furkan Korkmaz for Harden and Paul Millsap. Brooklyn may think they can do better and will wait it out. The other concern for the 76ers in all this: What if the Nets do get healthy this season, come together and make a Finals run? Not looking likely, but it’s possible, and if it happens would Harden still want out?

If Harden is truly frustrated with the Nets as an organization, maybe that won’t matter.