Just as Kevin Durant pushed Nets general manager Sean Marks to trade for James Harden a year ago, it was Durant who gave Brooklyn's brass the go-ahead to cut bait on Harden last week.
About two hours before the NBA's trade deadline expired last Thursday afternoon, news broke that the former MVP Harden and Nets veteran forward Paul Millsap were being sent to Philadelphia in exchange for the 76ers estranged all-star playmaker Ben Simmons, center Andre Drummond, guard Seth Curry and two first-round draft picks.
Numerous sources had begun reporting in late-January that Harden was disenchanted with the Nets. While he denied the reports to the media, his play made it apparent to people throughout the Nets organization that he wanted out.
Harden's last game with the Nets — a humiliating defeat in Sacramento — was perhaps the most abysmal of his career. A week later, Durant was fully convinced Harden had quit on Brooklyn, according to Bleacher Report's Jake Fischer.
“Kevin was like: ‘F—k it. James isn’t bringing s—t,” another figure with knowledge of Brooklyn added. “I don’t think that would have happened without Kevin making that decision.”
For weeks he had grown weary of Harden’s purported commitment to the franchise. When Harden first took to the bench with right hamstring tightness, Durant was among the Brooklyn figures who were skeptical of the injury’s severity.
By Thursday morning, Durant dialed Nets general manager Sean Marks, sources said.
Harden had been sitting out following the Sacramento debacle, complaining (perhaps dubiously) of a sore hamstring and hand.
He later admitted to Marks and team governor Joe Tsai that he would prefer a trade to Philadelphia, rather than playing out the rest of the year with Brooklyn.
Marks then called Sixers GM Daryl Morey Thursday morning — a longtime Harden ally — and hashed out a trade package for Harden and Simmons over the course of the next four hours.
Durant and Harden had been locked in a silent feud all season, beginning with Durant's frustration with Harden's lack of condition early in training camp.
Harden, on the other hand, was frustrated with Durant's loyalty to guard Kyrie Irving (who has been sitting out home games due to noncompliance with New York City's vaccination mandate) and annoyed by coach Steve Nash's fickle rotations and a general lack of room to operate with the ball in his hands.
Brooklyn coaches noticed Harden would sometimes roll his eyes when they drew up after-timeout plays for Durant.
"Kevin and James had a cold war going for the last several months that made everyone miserable," one source told Bleacher Report.
Durant had remained optimistic that he and Harden could coexist, but his doubts grew as the trade deadline neared.
With Durant's blessing, Marks was empowered to make the deal — one that should ostensibly help both teams and all players involved.
The Nets replenished their injury-depleted roster with much-needed scoring and rebounding in Curry and Drummond. Philadelphia's two draft picks will help replenish a cache of assets the Nets gave up in the initial Harden trade with Houston. Most importantly, Brooklyn gets the chance to integrate a player like Simmons, whose game should compliment both Durant and Irving.
The Sixers got a former MVP in exchange for Simmons, who refused to rejoin the team after its ugly playoff loss last season to Atlanta. Harden told reporters Tuesday that the Sixers were his preferred destination since Brooklyn was not working out.