The Nets and Rockets are seemingly playing a game of chicken, with the stakes being three-time scoring champ James Harden.
It’s clear that Harden is not only intent on leaving Houston, but the Rockets star has honed in on Brooklyn as a preferred landing place. Now the Nets are left to find out just how extortionate a price the Rockets will hold to, decide how much they’re willing to pay and figure out how to bridge that gap.
While there are reports circulating that the Nets and Rockets have reached a verbal agreement, sources have denied that is the case. Though most scenarios have the Nets parting with combinations of Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie, Jarrett Allen and multiple first-round picks, they obviously don’t want to give up the farm.
Meanwhile, after seeing the return New Orleans got for Jrue Holiday — including three first-round picks and two pick swaps — Houston is sure to ask for the world.
“I don’t know if there’s that much of an appetite where you’re Brooklyn and you’re basically telling Houston, ‘Pick what you want on our roster and our draft picks,’ ” ex-Nets assistant GM and current ESPN analyst Bobby Marks said on Sportsnet 590 The FAN. “I don’t think there’s an appetite for that where you’re giving up Spencer Dinwiddie, Jarrett Allen and Caris LeVert and basically say hey if you want 2022, ’24, ’26 pick swaps and all that stuff.
“I don’t think we’re there, and I don’t think the Nets will ever be there. Knowing [GM] Sean Marks’ DNA, he’s a high-risk player, but not to that extent. So now it’s a matter of who blinks first. Would that package get shrunk a little bit as far as from a picks standpoint? So I don’t think we’re [where] this is imminent here. I think this is kind of in a waiting game where each team will probably wait each other out.”
Bobby Marks has experience in monster deals before, having been part of the Nets’ trade with Boston that brought back Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, and he — like most around the league — don’t think the Nets GM will be rash in gutting his team for Harden.
The Nets have had contact with Houston, but nothing concrete. The feeling around the league is that the Rockets are demanding a star in return for Harden, and that’s more in line with deals that could be offered by Philadelphia (Ben Simmons) or Boston (Kemba Walker, Gordon Hayward) than anything that Brooklyn has to offer. Asking for Kevin Durant or Kyrie Irving is a non-starter.
Durant and Harden — former teammates in Oklahoma City — talked at length earlier this month in Los Angeles about playing together again in Brooklyn. There are conflicting reports about how onboard Irving is.
Either way, Houston doesn’t want to give up Harden at all before trying to salvage the relationship. Bleacher Report’s Ric Bucher said on “The Odd Couple” podcast that conservative Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta’s fervent support of President Donald Trump led to a revolt amongst players, including Harden and Russell Westbrook.
Even if Houston eventually sees the writing on the wall and moves Harden, it clearly wants a star player in return rather than a long rebuild. NBA sources confirmed as much to The Post, and ESPN’s Kendrick Perkins — who played with Durant and Harden in OKC — expressed doubt it gets done without a star being included.
“The Rockets are not willing to give up their drop-top Rolls Royce and trade it in for a Camry. They want something else,” Perkins said on-air. “If they’re going to trade in their Rolls Royce, they want back a Ferrari.
“They’re not about to trade James Harden, their MVP candidate every year, the leading scorer in the NBA for role players, or future guys. … No, they want something back in return at an MVP-caliber.”