NBA Front Office Confidential: James Harden back to Houston rumor bewilders NBA

If you’re wondering why, with a seven-game winning streak in hand, a report emerged — on Christmas Day, no less! — That Philadelphia 76ers point guard James Harden is willing to return to Houston to play for the last-place Rockets, you’re not alone.

Scouts and GMs are also looking for an answer. Because Harden really going back to Houston makes no sense. Obviously not for the 76ers. Nor for the reconstruction of the rockets. And certainly not for Harden, after taking a pay cut this season to allow the Sixers to bolster their roster for a championship run.

“I told (Sixers president of basketball operations) Daryl (Morey) to improve the roster, sign who we needed to sign and give me whatever was left over,” Harden told Yahoo last summer . “That’s how bad I want to win. I want to compete for a championship. That’s all I care about at this stage. I’m willing to take less to put us in a position to get it.”

To be clear, Harden didn’t completely dismiss the report. He denied knowing where he was from and said he was “very excited” to be in Philadelphia.

And this may be the indication, for as long as he does not directly refute it, the threat he might leave alive in the mind of those who were to hear it. The two possibilities of who it could be reflect exactly how byzantine business can be in the NBA.

“The conventional rationale would be that Harden wants to create leverage to get what he wants to re-sign with Philadelphia,” said one Eastern Conference general manager. “The unconventional reason would be that Daryl, team president Daryl Morey, has to create leverage with his owners to get James what he already promised him.”

For those off the grid last summer, Harden opted out of the final year of his previous contract, which would have paid him $47.4 million to sign a two-year deal, with another player option which pays him $33 million this season. That alone raised questions about whether he did it with the understanding that the Sixers would compensate him in a later deal for the $14 million he had sacrificed, which could be considered salary cap circumvention by the Sixers. When a similar deal between forward Joe Smith and the Minnesota Timberwolves was uncovered in 1999, it ended up costing the team four consecutive first-round picks and a $3.5 million fine.

Timberwolves vice president of basketball operations Kevin McHale said at the time, “There are eight to 10 teams that do it all the time. They just do it well. We’re bad.”

[As LeBron turns 38, his historic brilliance is being wasted by the Lakers]

But if a deal is already in place between Harden and Morey, why create leverage by threatening to leave? Well, with the 76ers not doing as well as expected with the resignation of Harden and the addition of forward PJ Tucker on a three-year, $33 million deal, the 76ers can think about exactly how much they want. to invest in the injured 33-year-old guard who has already missed nearly half of his games this season.

The question becomes: Who is having these two thoughts? None of the scouts or GMs I spoke with believe anything has changed between Morey and Harden, whose close relationship was forged in Houston when Morey was in charge of the Rockets. Morey acquired Harden, then a sixth man, from the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2012 and helped develop him into an eight-time All-Star, three-time scoring champion, league MVP and one of the 75 Greatest Players in the league of all time.

“The affection is real,” the Eastern Conference general manager said.

When Morey left to join the Sixers, Harden soon after demanded to be traded. He ended up drifting to the Brooklyn Nets for 80 games over parts of two seasons, but they finally reunited at the trade deadline last season in the deal that sent Ben Simmons to Brooklyn. And it wasn’t for lack of trying, league sources say, that Morey couldn’t bring him directly to Philadelphia from Houston.

But there is no indication that the friendly relationship Harden has with Morey extends to Josh Harris, the principal owner of the Sixers. Harris may want to keep Harden, but not with the kind of contract Morey promised Harden in order to get him to agree to take less this season.

“It’s a crazy theory,” the Eastern Conference GM admitted, “but it would make sense. Daryl would look bad if he couldn’t make good on what he promised James.”

The Rockets, meanwhile, are open to adding some veteran leadership to their extremely young roster (Eric Gordon and Boban Marjanovic are the only Rockets with more than three years of experience) and have ample cap space to sign a high priced free agent. . But would Harden be the type of veteran a team would seek to mentor younger players?

“Uh, no,” the Eastern Conference general manager said, laughing.

And do the Rockets have enough talent that Harden could reasonably expect to compete for a title? Again, the consensus among various scouts and GMs was no. Only if, one Eastern Conference scout said, the Rockets got Victor Wembanyana in the next draft.

“But many chips should fall in the right places,” said the scout. “And that still doesn’t explain the timing of the release of the report now.”

So, as crazy as it is, no other executive or scout could come up with a better explanation. “It’s weird on both sides,” said one executive. “Crazy,” said another. “Very strange,” said one scout. “Does not make sense”.

At least not for now.

PALACE INTRIGUE IN ATLANTA: The announcement that Atlanta Hawks team president Travis Schlenk was returning to an advisory role earlier this season caught the rest of the league off guard just as much as the Harden news. The only certainty is that no one accepts that Schlenk abruptly decided he wanted a lifestyle change.

A league source said the move was inspired by the sour relationship between Schlenk and All-Star point guard Trae Young and the team’s director of basketball operations Nick Ressler, son of Hawks principal owner Tony Ressler.

Nick Ressler, Young and Schlenk’s replacement, GM Landry Fields, are close and committed to building around Young, league sources say. The move to acquire DeJounte Murray from the San Antonio Spurs last summer was engineered by them, not Schlenk, according to those sources.

Another undisclosed move, a league source says, is that director of scouting Stephen Giles has also been moved aside, and Grant Liffman, a scout hired last summer and roommate of Fields, has been promoted, although the exact details of his new role were unknown.

FOX Sports Top Stories:

Ric Bucher is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He previously wrote for Bleacher Report, ESPN The Magazine and The Washington Post and has written two books, “Rebound,” about NBA forward Brian Grant’s battle with young-onset Parkinson’s, and “Yao: A Life In Two Worlds”. He also has a daily podcast, “On The Ball with Ric Bucher.” Follow him on Twitter @Rick Bucher.

Get more from the National Basketball Association Follow your favorites for information on games, news and more

Source link

Leave a Comment