There is no simple, easy playbook for forcing a trade in the NBA. There is no way to demand a trade where every stakeholder's interest is indulged, where everyone's a happy winner. James Harden might've known that before he agitated his way to Brooklyn over the course of several bitter months.

He definitely knows now.

As Harden returns to Houston for the first time since the Rockets traded their franchise cornerstone, we're reminded that for NBA superstars, there is always a way out of any situation or contract.

With Harden in tow, the Nets are now the latest supernova franchise fast-tracked by superstar interests, a clear title contender with elite playmakers.

The Rockets are now on a course to bottom out, in the midst of a 12-game losing streak, left to tout financial flexibility and hypothetical future players.

On Sept. 12, Harden exited the playoffs feeling frustrated, defeated and confused after losing to the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Semifinals, according to sources close to him. His Rockets were a contender every year, but they never managed to make the Finals. After eight years with the franchise, Harden was starting to feel legitimate doubt about staying in Houston, according to a source familiar with his thinking.

That doubt only magnified on Oct. 15, when Rockets general manager Daryl Morey stepped down because of personal reasons.

Morey spent nearly a decade getting Harden anything he wanted. He acquired the head coach Harden wanted in Mike D'Antoni and the players Harden wanted in Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook. He gave Harden a max contract extension that would theoretically keep him in Houston through 2023.

In the wake of Morey's departure, Harden began telling his inner circle that he was suddenly feeling a culture shift. In his eyes, the Rockets were no longer a contender.