Harden Tests His Star Power

The NBA may be the only sports league where the players had the power to dictate terms for where they wanted to play. But the summer of 2023 has shown the Governors may be trying to wrestle that power back. Disgruntled Philadelphia 76ers star James Harden has yet again demanded a trade. That is the third time he has done so in his career.

In a moment bordering on self-parody, Harden has been willing to talk about other players in similar situations and how teams and players should meet in the middle. While Harden has been an excellent scorer and shooter since he came into the league, he has had his share of bizarre behavior and a difficult time fitting in.

Harden Tests His Star Power

Why Does Harden Want to be Traded?

Harden was dealt from the Brooklyn Nets to the 76ers during the 2021-22 season in hopes of pursuing an NBA title after teaming up with Joel Embiid. However, things didn’t work out for the 76ers. When James Harden started negotiations for his next contract, he was disappointed that he felt Philadelphia wanted to offer him a short, team-friendly deal.

While Harden put up solid numbers on the court last season, he was ineffective in the playoffs. Harden led the NBA by averaging 10.7 assists per game and also contributed 21 points and 6.1 rebounds per game in 58 regular season games. Philadelphia made the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs before being eliminated by Boston in seven games.

Harden Would Like to Go to Tinseltown

There is mutual interest between James Harden and the Los Angeles Clippers. Trying to add Harden in a trade would provide the Clippers with another star in his 30s. Los Angeles already has the injury-prone Kawhi Leonard and Paul George in the lineup. 

The Clippers reportedly also are interested in P.J.Tucker, who played for Philadelphia last season. Los Angeles is also a desired destination for Harden, who would have an opportunity to reunite with former Clippers teammate Russel Westbrook. The Clippers, like Harden, have never won an NBA Finals during their history and are hoping they can find the last few pieces to get them over the hump.

Philadelphia Won’t Rush Into a Deal

The 76ers fired coach Doc Rivers after the team underperformed last season. Philadelphia brought in another championship coach to replace him. The 76ers hired Nick Nurse, who was fired by Toronto. With Embiid on the roster, Philadelphia still has high hopes for this season. The 76ers still want to hold out to try and get the maximum return for Harden.

Part of the reluctance from other teams to deal with the veteran guard has been his contract situation. James Harden picked up a $35.6 million player option for the 2023-24 season before he demanded a trade with the team. Harden, who is 34, is seeking another long-term deal, but his age may scare teams away.

Harden Tests

Harden Knows the Drill

James Harden was dealt away from the Thunder in 2012 after he and the team couldn’t work out a contract extension. His first trade demand came during the 2021 season. He was concerned with the direction the Houston Rockets were heading and forced his way to the Nets in a trade.

When Harden went to the Nets, he had a chance to play with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. However, the honeymoon quickly wore out there and he wanted to be traded to the 76ers. While Harden didn’t want to say to the press he was unhappy in Brooklyn, he was still maneuvering to be traded out of town.

Are There Any Other Fits Out There?

Harden made it clear that his preference is to go to Los Angeles. But there are many other teams that could use a dynamic playmaker like Harden. The New York Knicks have been floated as a possible landing destination, but there could be a major personality conflict for Harden.

Harden is not noted for his strong defensive acumen. People often question Harden’s desire to play defense at all. Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau is noted for his aggressive coaching style and how he wants his guys to play good defense. The Knicks will likely try to go in another direction.

There has been some indication the Miami Heat may be interested, but that would be an interesting fit. The Heat have made their name over the past few seasons by having rosters filled mostly with players who were overlooked or undervalued. Harden would be a superstar personality that the Heat hasn’t had in several seasons.

Miami has also been actively pursuing Damian Lillard. The Heat are in the market for a star and veteran player, but the Heat are particular about which types of players they bring into the organization.

76ers Have a History of Dealing with Difficult Stars

Philadelphia found itself in a similar situation just a few seasons ago. Former No. 1 draft pick Ben Simmons was unhappy following the 2020-21 season and demanded a trade. With the 76ers having four years of control with Simmons, they didn’t want to trade the former top pick.

What ensued was an ugly drama. Simmons made good on his word to sit out, not reporting to training camp or the team until Oct. 11, 2023. When Simmons returned, he clashed with Rivers and declined to be substituted into drills. He ended up paying over $10 million in fines before he was traded to the Brooklyn Nets.

This situation has its differences. The expectation is that Harden would report to camp but still want to be traded. The market on Harden may be smaller than expected, and teams will try to hold out for the best deal.