Although Brooklyn Nets guard James Harden wants a trade to the Philadelphia 76ers, he has resisted making that formal request out of fear of the public backlash that would come with asking out of a second franchise in consecutive seasons, sources told ESPN.
Harden is hopeful that 76ers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey secures a trade for him before the 3 p.m. ET NBA trade deadline Thursday, but Morey and Nets general manager Sean Marks have yet to become engaged in serious dialogue on a deal, sources said.
There's still an expectation that the sides will communicate Thursday, and the possibility of a deal remains, but both teams are left measuring the risk-reward of a Harden deal, sources said.
A trade may hinge on Morey's willingness to include assets, beyond exiled guard Ben Simmons, needed to persuade the Nets to unload Harden against the cost of creating the salary-cap space to sign Harden in summer free agency. Philadelphia could re-engage the Nets on an opt-in and trade strategy in the offseason, too.
There's risk for the Nets, too: After trading key players and draft picks to acquire Harden from the Rockets a little over a year ago, they risk keeping a disgruntled player to attempt a championship run this season -- and the specter of losing him for nothing this summer.
Harden has missed Brooklyn's past three games with a hamstring injury, leading to speculation that he's purposely shutting down to send a message on his waning desire to remain with the Nets. The team announced Wednesday that Harden also will miss Thursday's game against the Wizards.
The Sixers have largely retreated on trade deadline deals involving Simmons until they have clarity on their ability to include him in a deal for Harden, sources said.
Nets ownership and management want to win a championship this season and believe that a season revival awaits once Kevin Durant returns after the All-Star break. Brooklyn is resigned to the possibility that Harden may want to leave but wants his best route for a title this season, and is willing to treat Harden like the Raptors treated Kawhi Leonard in 2019 -- championship or bust.
The Nets (29-25) have lost nine straight games and have fallen to the No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference standings. Brooklyn enters Thursday, however, just three games behind division-leading Philadelphia (32-22) and 1½ games behind sixth-place Toronto (30-23).