James Harden is now a member of the Brooklyn Nets, creating a potential monster of a team ahead of the Boston Celtics not only in the Eastern Conference, but in the Atlantic Division.

While we wait to see whether the Nets experiment will work or not, there is always the question in these scenarios of whether the Celtics were a player in trade talks.

According to Danny Ainge, they were not.

“We had numerous talks, but the price really wasn’t changing. The price was really high for us. And it was just something we didn’t want to do,” Ainge said on his weekly appearance on Toucher and Rich. “I’m not sure there was anybody — 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.”

What was the price? According to Brian Robb of Boston Sports Journal, it included Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart.

That shouldn’t be much of a surprise. NBA salary-matching rules in trades put Boston in a bit of a bind when it came to a Harden trade. If the Celtics were to deal with Houston directly, Brown’s and Smart’s salaries are among the few combinations that could match both Harden’s $41.2 million salary and Houston’s desire for young talent and picks.

The pick haul Houston got from Brooklyn is also part of this equation. The Rockets own the Nets’ unprotected first round picks in 2022, ’24, and ’26 while also now owning unprotected pick swaps in ’21, ’23, ’25, and ’27.

The first few years might not matter as much but Harden is under contract for two more years while Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are signed for three (the final year of all their deals are player options). The volatility of this combination could make the last three or four years of this deal very lucrative for Houston.

Considering the asking price for the Celtics, and Brown’s emergence in the early going, it didn’t make sense for Ainge to pull the trigger on two years of Harden.

If you want to hear an in-depth discussion of how the Harden deal can go right and wrong, plus how it directly impacts the Celtics, check out the latest Locked On Celtics podcast:


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