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James Harden declining his Nets contract extension would set him up for free agency next summer

James Harden, Nets, James Harden extension

The biggest storyline for the Brooklyn Nets on Monday (aside from Kyrie Irving and anything related to him) is whether or not the team will extend James Harden’s contract and keep him in town for the next five-plus seasons.

Monday is the deadline for teams to extend veteran players with two years remaining on their salaries. If the team cannot get that accomplished, the question of whether or not Harden plans to sign a long-term deal with the Nets will hang over Brooklyn all season long. No matter how much the team might try to reassure fans that it’s a forgone conclusion, they’ll have to watch other teams salivate over the mere possibility or luring The Beard to warmer, perhaps beachier climates.

Wait, weren’t the Nets about to sign Harden or something? 

Correct! There was a time not long ago when we thought the Nets might get Harden’s extension done around training camp. Remember when Sean Marks (oozing Pete Carroll levels of optimism) predicted he’d have the Big Three extended before training camp?

Marks didn’t quite hit the mark, but there was still the vague notion of progress on that front by late September.

On Nets Media Day, Harden himself said, “I don’t see myself anywhere else, honestly,” per YES Network. Nets owner Joe Tsai told the New York Post that Harden wants to retire in Brooklyn.

Per Brian Lewis:

“Yeah, whether or not it’s the season now or later, the way I look at it is he’s already said I want to play and finish my career in Brooklyn: He’s actually said that. And our job is to make sure that he continues to feel that way,” Tsai told The Post.”

But then came an interview with ESPN’s Malika Andrews, shedding light on why we had not heard about that extension Marks predicted by training camp.

Armed with the knowledge that James Harden has yet to sign his extension and hearing him openly talk about never having had the chance to experience unrestricted free agency, we can do the math (literally) on his millions of reasons for holding off. 

If Harden signs an extension Monday, it would land him just over $200 million over the next four seasons beyond 2022. If he takes a bit of risk and declines the security, staying mostly healthy this season, he would be eligible to sign a five-year contract (worth around $270 million) from the Nets.

By waiting, Harden would also get to experience that feeling of being recruited by every team he’d even bother to entertain. Kevin Durant’s famous Hamptons Five story, LaMarcus Aldridge’s infamous Lakers recruitment bungle, Gordon Hayward’s Miami billboard, LeBron James’ Sopranos movie pitch from the Knicks … Harden could enjoy some of his own future folklore by taking meetings.

It makes sense if Monday comes and goes without an extension. It makes sense that we’d then hear some more forms of reassurance from player and team about wanting this to work for the long haul.

And even if there is no “great alarm” about losing him, fans will still need a strong stomach. There will be rumors of rival executives lurking.

There will be viral tweets from fans of rival teams quick to speculate on dissension among the Nets’ ranks. The first “bad body language” moment, heated exchange moment, or even All-Star Game tunnel moment will all be blown up.

I’d bet on Harden declining his extension before this season and signing a much bigger one next summer. But then again, just one month ago I might have bet on Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving all playing for the Nets this season, so don’t ask me.