James Harden Shares Cryptic Instagram Post amid Houston Rockets Trade Rumors

The uncertainty surrounding James Harden's future ticks all the boxes of a classic NBA offseason saga. From one of the league's best players declining an extremely lucrative extension to force a trade that could dramatically alter the league's landscape to his team seemingly refusing to budge, Harden's attempts to engineer a move away from the Houston Rockets has all the makings of a protracted offseason tale with a plethora of surprise turns.

On Monday, the eight-time All-Star added a further layer of intrigue to the narrative with a cryptic Instagram story. The 15-second clip features Harden opening a bottle, before zooming in on the cap. While the term is often mentioned in the NBA when it comes to salary cap, it is also a slang term used to describe a lie.

Predictably, Harden's post immediately went viral, with social media platforms awash with NBA fans debating whether the 2018 regular season MVP was accusing someone of lying by zooming in on the cap.

Others suggested by focusing on the act of removing the top from the bottle, Harden wanted the attention to focus on "no cap," subtly implying the reports suggesting he wanted a trade to the Brooklyn Nets were in fact true.

The third option, of course, is simply that the 31-year-old simply wanted a drink and thought of quenching his thirst while simultaneously playing tricks with the minds of NBA fans.

Harden's cryptic post came only a few hours after ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported the the All-Star guard had made it clear to the Rockets he wanted to be traded to the Nets. Houston reportedly tabled an offer to sign Harden to the maximum allowable extension, which would pay the former MVP $103 million over two years and make him the first player in NBA history to earn $50 million a year.

Harden has three years left on his current deal, over which he is scheduled to make $133 million. The third overall pick of the 2009 NBA draft is due to make $40.8 million and $43.8 million over the next two seasons, with a player option for the 2022-23 season at $46.9 million.

Harden, however, has reportedly nixed the Rockets offer and reiterated he intends to be traded to the Nets to play alongside Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

Harden played alongside Durant for his first three seasons in the NBA, before leaving the Oklahoma City Thunder for Houston in the summer of 2012.

Durant signed for the Nets as a free agent last year, but missed the whole of last season as he recovered from a torn Achilles he suffered in the 2019 NBA Finals.

Even without the two-time NBA Finals MVP and with Irving enduring multiple spells on the sidelines, the Nets reached the playoffs last season when they were swept in the first round by the Toronto Raptors.

According to ESPN, Harden believes his championship window in Houston has ended and that he could win a NBA title alongside Durant and Irving in Brooklyn.

The Rockets have made the playoffs each year since trading for Harden, losing twice in the Western Conference Finals and three times in the Conference Semifinals, with the most recent defeat at that stage coming against the Los Angeles Lakers in September.

Leaving Houston, however, may not be straightforward for Harden. Both ESPN and The Athletic have reported the Rockets are relaxed about the situation and are open to retain the services of the eight-time All-Star into next season.

Harden's huge contract could also be a significant hurdle to any possible trade, as the Nets are already over the NBA's base salary cap for the 2020-21 season, as per figures from Spotrac.

Durant and Irving will respectively make $39 million and $33 million next year, with Caris LeVert, Taurean Prince and Spencer Dinwiddie the next three biggest earners on the payroll. LeVert will make $16.2 million next season, with Prince and Dinwiddie set to earn $12.3 million and $11.5 million respectively.

James Harden, Houston Rockets
James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets exits the court after their loss to Los Angeles Lakers in Game Five of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2020 NBA Playoffs at AdventHealth Arena at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on September 12 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.Michael Reaves/Getty