Nets Star James Harden Was Closer to Being a Celtic Than Most Realize: Report

James Harden

Getty James Harden dribbles during the second half against of Brooklyn's game against the Los Angeles Clippers at Barclays Center on February 2.

In a deal that send shockwaves around the NBA and dramatically changed the complexion of the championship conversation, the Brooklyn Nets on January 14 landed perennial All-Star James Harden from the Houston Rockets. The trade required two other teams to help facilitate.

Harden has been electric for his new team — the Nets are 17-6 in games Harden has played in so far — but as it turns out, The Beard almost wound up playing for a different Northeast team.

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Harden Was Close to Becoming a Celtic

In January, as the Harden sweepstakes was entering its final leg, multiple reports had the Nets and the Philadelphia 76ers in a two-horse race for Harden’s services. But ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne reported the Boston Celtics also were in the mix.

Boston general manager Danny Ainge confirmed as much — to an extent.

“Yeah, we had conversations regarding James,” Ainge said on 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Toucher & Rich shortly after Harden-to-Brooklyn became official, per NBC Sports Boston. “Not recently, but yeah. We did have conversations.”

Ainge then delved a bit deeper into why things didn’t materialize.

“We had numerous talks, but the price really wasn’t changing,” Ainge said, via NBC Sports Boston. “The price was really high for us. It was just something we didn’t want to do.

“Even the people within our organization that respected him and wanted him more — I think unanimously we decided it wasn’t the time for us and it wasn’t the price.”

That’s some smooth downplaying by the Celtics president of basketball operations. But according to one report, Boston was very much in the thick of it late.

“Sources say Boston’s level of interest and involvement far surpassed what Ainge was willing to admit to when he addressed it publicly,” wrote senior NBA writer Sam Amick in a Wednesday story for The Athletic. “That deal — as opposed to a possible trade for (Sacramento Kings standout Harrison) Barnes — likely would have required (Celtics All-Star Jaylen) Brown to be dealt.”

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Harden in MVP Mode

Acquiring Harden came at a steep price for Brooklyn. The Nets parted ways with Jarrett Allen, Caris LeVert, Taurean Prince, Rodions Kurucs and first-round picks in 2022, 2024 and 2026 to land The Beard. They also agreed to swap picks with Houston in 2021, 2023, 2025 and 2027.

Steep.

But so far, Harden has appeared to be worth every penny. Harden, who just played in his ninth-straight All-Star Game and was the 2017-18 NBA MVP, is averaging 25.5 points, 8.7 rebounds and a league-leading 11.4 assists in his first 23 games with the Nets. Those numbers have him a legitimate contender in the MVP race.

The Celtics, meanwhile, get their first look at the Harden-led Nets when the teams begin the second half of their seasons Thursday night at Barclays Center.

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