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MacMahon: Rockets realize James Harden likely gone, want to weigh multiple offers

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NBA: Playoffs-Houston Rockets at Los Angeles Lakers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN’s Tim MacMahon, on Brian Windhorst’s “Hoop Collective” podcast, says he’s detected a change in the Rockets attitude toward James Harden, that they now realize that the situation with their superstar guard is irreparable ... but they will not let him dictate where he goes.

MacMahon added that “this thing has accelerated a lot faster than I anticipated.”

Harden, the NBA’s leading scorer the past three years, has all but said publicly that he wants out, that he wants to join Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn. MacMahon told Windhorst he may want the Nets but that’s not what will drive their decision. The return —and a steep one— will determine his next destination.

“The sense I get from the Rockets is that their ambition, their goal, their hope is no longer about salvaging the relationship with James Harden and kind of getting him on board,” MacMahon told Windhorst “There’s a realization, you know, his mind is made up. He wants out and there is a determination to say ‘Okay, we get it. This happens in the NBA, but just because James Harden wants out doesn’t mean he gets to dictate where and for what [he’s traded].

“James Harden got to dictate the Russell Westbrook trade last summer. Tillman [Fertitta] liked it too at the time. Don’t get me wrong. James Harden was the driving force behind that trade. That was no secret.”

MacMahon added that the Rockets are likely to be patient weighing offers from suitors around the league, presumably including the Nets.

“Harden doesn’t get to say where he’s traded and basically force the Rockets to take a package that is 60 cents on the dollar for a perennial MVP candidate. I think what the Rockets are doing right now is they’re prepping for the post-Harden rebuild.”

There was a hint of that earlier this week when the Rockets sent Robert Covington to Portland for two first rounders and Trevor Ariza.

So, with not just Harden but Russell Westbrook wanting out, Houston’s new GM, Rafael Stone, is looking for a deal that starts with a young star and includes multiple first round picks.

“A package for Harden, and listen, this thing has accelerated a lot faster than I anticipated it would. These things are all fluid. We understand that. What the Rockets are saying is ‘We need a young franchise cornerstone type of player and a Jrue Holiday-like package of picks. That’s where conversations have to start.’ And do you see a young franchise cornerstone caliber player on the Nets? Do you consider Caris LeVert either young or a franchise cornerstone?”

Windhorst then interjected, “Well, he’s not Ben Simmons if that’s your point,” a reference to the 76ers interest in the nine-time All-Star and 2017 MVP.

According to what appears to be mostly speculation, a Nets package would be centered on a combination of LeVert, Jarrett Allen, Spencer Dinwiddie and Taurean Prince as well as picks. The Nets have all their own firsts going forward. Philly does as well and like the Nets has multiple seconds but Simmons of course is a bigger star than any of the available Nets players so might not require as many draft picks. Another potential suitor, the Celtics, have young players like Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown but no longer have any additional picks, first or second round, going forward.