While Kevin Durant happily signed a multi-year contract extension to stay with the Nets, James Harden is taking a more wait-and-see approach.
Harden insists he wants to be in Brooklyn for the long haul. He claims, however, his focus right now is more on earning his first ring, and earning the money will follow.
“Honestly I’m just taking my time. I’m just going to focus on trying to bring a championship to the city,” said Harden. “As far as an extension I’m just being patient with it. I went through a lot last year, you want to make sure I’m in the right mindset knowing long term that ultimately I want to be in Brooklyn for the rest of my career. So it’s no rush and we’re gonna have fun with it.”
Harden was speaking at Nets media day Monday at Barclays Center, with training camp set to begin Tuesday in San Diego, California. While general manager Sean Marks had expressed confidence in getting all of the Big Three extended before the start of camp, Durant re-upped while in the midst of leading Team USA to gold in the Tokyo Olympics. The Nets are still waiting on Harden and Kyrie Irving.
Harden will make $44,310,840 this season, and has a player option of $47,366,760 for next season. But he can sign an extension for up to three years, $161.1 million that would kick in for the 2023-24 campaign.
“It’s not about the money for me. I’ve been on enough teams where we fell short. So my mindset, my goal is to make sure that we’re able to build, and continue to build this team to be able to compete for multiple, multiple years at the highest level,” said Harden. “So it’s not about the money. You win a championship in New York, the money will come.”
The Nets fell agonizingly short of their stated goal of a title, losing in the Eastern Conference semifinals to the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks.
Harden was spectacular after arriving in a Jan. 14 trade from Houston, with Brooklyn 29-7 with him in the lineup. But injuries derailed the season.
Poor health limited the Big Three to just 202 minutes together over eight regular-season tilts, and another 130 minutes in six postseason games. The Nets didn’t use their optimal lineup once until the playoffs.
And after missing 20 of 21 games down the stretch due to a hamstring injury, another Grade 2 strain just seconds into the Bucks series sidelined Harden again. With Irving out with a sprained ankle for the last three games of that series, Harden forced himself back out on the court, but was immobile and a shell of himself.
“I kind of blame last year on myself because I’m usually prepared; like, physically, mentally,” said Harden. “Last year was just draining in the sense of all the stuff that was going on. So I didn’t have the right mindset and preparation for an entire season. Usually I’m very, very durable and I’m able to handle anything that comes my way for the most part.
“So last year was kinda tricky, it was kinda weird, or whatever. But I think having a full great off offseason, preparing my body, and just kind of going through a full process with the strength and conditioning team, just from top to bottom I feel totally different. And I’m just excited for this new year’s journey.”
It’s a journey that – with Harden’s hamstring and Irving’s ankle both 100% — the Nets are confident should end in a title. It’s a stated goal they’re not shying away from.
“I think the entire organization feels that way. More than capable. We’ve just got to take the right steps,” said Harden. “We’re not gonna focus on the end goal now. I think we’re gonna take baby steps, and kind of get our mind and our body right, and make sure we’re on the same page. And just take a day at a time, figure some things out and (watch) things evolve and enjoy the experience.
“I think that’s another thing that I’m trying to get the guys to do is just have fun. I’m sure these guys have been on a few teams where it wasn’t fun, it was just draining coming into work. I want this experience to be one of the best experiences where guys come in and have fun, you just work hard and smile and laugh and we just get our job done. Once we get that kind of mindset, everything else should be easy.”