James Harden on Nets-76ers trade: NBA stars can mostly control own destiny

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76ers owner Joshua Harris began today’s introductory press conference by giddily welcoming James Harden and Paul Millsap.

“This is going to be awesome,” Harris said. “James, thank you for choosing Philly to play.”

Never mind that less than a week ago, Harden was under contract with the Nets. Another championship contender, Brooklyn had no desire to trade the star. But Philadelphia-Harden smoke thickened and thickened until the Nets clearly felt they had little choice but to deal a sulking Harden to the 76ers as long as Philadelphia made a suitable offer.

Of course, this is how the NBA works. Stars get their way. Tampering is common.

Few are more adept at navigating these waters than Daryl Morey, the Rockets’ general manager when Harden was in Houston and now Philadelphia’s team president. Morey followed Harris by gushing about pairing Harden and Joel Embiid: “an MVP and a guy who’s on pace to probably be the MVP if he can keep it up.”

Morey opened the floor to questions before there was interjection for 76ers coach Doc Rivers to make a statement. Rivers thanked Ben Simmons, Seth Curry and Andre Drummond – who were sent to Brooklyn in the trade – for their contributions. Most lead executives and plenty of owners would’ve extended those basic pleasantries themselves.

Philadelphia is coldly scheming for a championship, trampling pretense and decency along the way.

Maybe it will work. Embiid and Harden are top talents. The supporting cast has enough juice. Rivers is a proven playoff coach. A title would make forgivable nearly anything leading to it.

But as the Nets just showed, these star-infested waters can be treacherous.

Despite a report otherwise, Harden didn’t exercise his player option in conjunction with the trade.

“I still have the opportunity to do it,” Harden said. “And will I? Yes.

“But everything happened so fast. I just wanted to get here and take my time and – most importantly – focus on the endgame, and that’s winning the championship.”

Maybe Harden will follow through and re-up long-term. But so much can change between now and June 29, Harden’s option deadline. What if the 76ers lose earlier than expected in the playoffs? What if Harden and Embiid don’t mesh as hoped?

Harden opting in would’ve provided security to Philadelphia, which dealt two future first-round picks in the trade for the possible impending free agent. He’s not always direct about his intentions and seems to hold interest in becoming a free agent for the first time in his career.

That said, there’s plenty of reason to believe he’ll stay.

Harden said the 76ers were his first choice when traded from Houston, contradicting a report he chose Brooklyn over Philadelphia. Asked why he didn’t land with the 76ers if he preferred them, Harden gave a confused chuckle.

“I wish it worked like that,” Harden said. “But the organization has got to do what’s best for their team.”

Except as Harris revealed to start, it usually does work like that.

Even Harden eventually acknowledged NBA stars’ power.

“For the most part, we can control our own destiny, “Harden said. “Not that I’m saying it’s a good thing or a bad thing.”

Maybe Harden’s trade just over a year ago was exception. Perhaps, Houston just took what was deemed the best offer. Or, depending whom you believe, Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta refused to trade Harden to Morey.

Sounding very much like himself today, Morey conveyed regret over that 2021 Brooklyn-Houston(-Indiana-Cleveland) deal – on behalf of the Nets.

“When I spoke to [Brooklyn general manager] Sean Marks over the past week primarily and a little bit before that, I felt like it should have been a three-team deal originally,” Morey said, “that the fit was there for that and would’ve been ideal, I think, for all three teams if it was originally structured that way.”

The Nets might not see it that way, even now. They assembled a team with incredible upside by adding Harden to Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Simmons’ already-known playoff deficiencies worsened during last year’s postseason. Brooklyn could appreciate the chance at a title – even if that particular window were short-lived.

Morey can’t just get whatever he wants.

Harden can come close, though.