James Harden has millions of reasons to experience unrestricted free agency next summer
The Brooklyn Nets’ training camp is underway in San Diego, and we’ve received a few tidbits of intel on a potential James Harden contract extension.
The Nets will have until October 18th to work out an extension with the former league MVP. If they cannot, “The Beard” would likely become an unrestricted free agent next summer, where Brooklyn would face the possibility of him changing teams and leaving them empty-handed. No matter what types of assurances were made, reports of Harden taking meetings with rival clubs would be a big concern for Brooklyn if it ever came to that.
For what it’s worth, last August, Nets GM Sean Marks made a rather bold declaration:
Sean Marks expects Kyrie Irving and James Harden to sign extensions with the Nets alongside Kevin Durant:
"I feel very confident by the first day of training camp, we'll be looking at those 3 signed, sealed, and delivered" pic.twitter.com/htipK7laWi
— Nets Videos (@SNYNets) August 11, 2021
Well here we are and Kevin Durant is still the only one signed, sealed actually, and delivered. So what changed? Did Marks encounter some unexpected hurdles? Did Harden change his mind?
In a media appearance, Marks still seemed relatively confident he could get a deal done ahead of the October deadline.
“We’ve had very positive conversations with both those guys. And whether it’s family members, people and so forth, I think it always helps to do these things in person,” Nets GM Sean Marks said in a pre-training camp meeting with reporters on Tuesday. “With this being summer, we’re very cognizant of letting people have their own time away before we all get back into the swing of things here. We’re looking forward to sitting down with them over the course of the next week, two weeks, and furthering those discussions.”
Harden himself added this truth bomb at media day: “I don’t see myself anywhere else, honestly.”
But we got a little more context later in the week, per ESPN’s Malika Andrews:
James Harden, in part, on his contract extension: “I'm just taking my time with it. You know, I think over the course of my career I've never been a free agent before… I think this season I just want to focus on winning the championship.”
— Malika Andrews (@malika_andrews) September 29, 2021
In that interview with Andrews, Harden had this to say:
“I think in the course of my career, I’ve never been a free agent before so I’ve always just been loyal and just signing contract extension and just being there being there being there, I just want to take my time with it It’s gonna be very very difficult to leave here but or even to leave Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving… I think this season I just want to focus on winning a championship and everything else will work itself out.”
This does not sound like a player in any rush to sign a contract.
This sounds more like a player who wants to experience that energy and that buzz which comes from being an unrestricted free agent. Remember when the Miami Heat tried to lure free agent Gordon Hayward with a massive street banner? Or when the New York Knicks shot a “Sopranos” scene to try to lure LeBron James in 2010?
Harden could experience all of that and also make a record-setting amount of cash simply by waiting until next summer.
However, in a report by Brian Lewis of the New York Post, team owner Joe Tsai claimed that Harden said he wants to retire as a member of the Nets:
“Signing Harden as soon as possible would mean inking him by the Oct. 18 deadline, the day before the Nets open the regular season in Milwaukee in a rematch of the thrilling seven-game Eastern Conference semifinals. He could just pick up next year’s $47,366,760 player option and tack on another three years for $161.1 million that would kick in for the 2023-24 campaign.
“If Harden waits until after the season, he could re-sign and shatter the all-time NBA record with an eye-watering $270 million windfall.”
Well when you put it that way, it makes a little more sense why everyone has pivoted from “we’re confident we’ll get a deal done soon” to “we’re taking a patient approach and focusing on winning a championship” verbiage.
All things considered, it’s sounding more and more like James Harden is NOT going to sign his extension ahead of October 18th. This is not to say that he won’t. He might. But my current guess would be that he does wait until next summer. There is a very real possibility that this time one year from now, Harden has a championship ring, an earth-shattering $270M deal guaranteed (through his age 37 season), and a few of those fun “Hamptons 5” style free agent tales of his own.
They can say it’s all about championships and not about the money. But by waiting until next summer, Harden could make the most money possible without costing himself any of the rings.