What 'Public Backlash' is James Harden Afraid Of?

James Harden
James Harden / Michelle Farsi/GettyImages

The Brooklyn Nets have completely fallen apart in the weeks leading up to the All-Star Break and things took a turn for the worse today, when Adrian Wojnarowski broke the news that James Harden really does want to be traded to the Philadelphia 76ers. What was actually happening there has been unclear to this point, in part because of conflicting reports by Wojnarowski and fellow ESPNer Brian Windhorst. Harden's commitment to Brooklyn seemed to be wavering, therefore it makes sense the Nets would explore options that would guarantee them a return for the All-Star guard, but anything concrete was hard to come by.

No longer. Wojnarowski reported Harden wants out-- but hasn't made a "formal request out of fear of the public backlash." Per ESPN:

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 prior to Thursday's 3 p.m. ET NBA trade deadline, but Morey and Nets general manager Sean Marks have yet to become engaged in serious dialogue on a deal, sources said.

Reading between the lines, this seems to indicate Harden hasn't told Sean Marks to find him a new team, but has taken other avenues to make his wishes known. Which is all well and good. Lesser players have done more gymnastics to get out of town.

What's strange is the public backlash note. Why would Harden care about public backlash? The Nets do not exactly have the most passionate fanbase in the league. They struggle to fill the arena for most of the regular season, and when they do there's often a significant contingent of opposing fans in attendance. And even if Harden did risk the wrath of a large and emotional fanbase, why should he care? They don't pay him.

Wojnarowski may be referring to a damaged public perception of his talents and willingness to stick around rather than classic "backlash," which would make slightly more sense. Harden is probably looking to sign another max contract this summer, worth up to nearly a quarter of a billion dollars. Any prospective team, even one run by his old boss Daryl Morey, would and should be very cautious about committing that money if he's a flight risk. Which it sure seems like he is, given how this has transpired.

But if that's what Harden wanted to avoid, he failed because now it's out in the open that he does want a trade. So who wins? Maybe the Sixers, who now have a bit of leverage on their side. Maybe it's the Nets in the long-term, who now know Harden won't re-sign this summer and can act accordingly. Maybe it's Harden who will get what he wants and get paid anyway because players with his skillset and resume are exceptionally rare.

Just a weird situation. But a situation that has a clear endgame. At long last, clarity.