It’s been a tumultuous offseason for the Houston Rockets. The offseason struggles have been exacerbated by James Harden’s demands to be traded to a contender, which remains a dark cloud hanging above the team’s future plans. With the recent news that Harden has increased his list of preferred trade destinations, let’s examine how it got to this stage, and the possible options for both sides moving forward.
Why is James Harden Looking for a Trade from the Houston Rockets?
Harden feels the Rockets’ championship window has now closed. Despite the organization doing everything to try and keep their star happy, he feels they are no longer considered a contending team. He’s also acutely aware at 31-years-old, he doesn’t have an infinite window to win a ring. According to sources, he’s also grown increasingly concerned with the culture within the organization.
Furthermore, two keys to Houston’s recent success in general manager Daryl Morey and head coach Mike D’Antoni both chose to leave.
D’Antoni’s decision to leave and accept an assistant position at the Brooklyn Nets began to raise questions. D’Antoni played a part in helping Harden realize his superstar potential. He also coached Houston to 65 wins in 2017-18, before they lost to the eventual-champion Golden State Warriors in the conference finals. Since then, they’ve remained competitive, but are slowly regressing.
Morey’s abrupt decision to leave was surprising. Widely considered one of the best analytical front office minds in the league, he masterminded the trade to bring Harden to Houston. This could be a major loss for the organization going forward.
What’s next for the Houston Rockets?
It appears pretty clear that after trading All-Star Russell Westbrook for John Wall, the next domino to fall is Harden. While Westbrook was clearly a questionable fit alongside Harden because both being ball-dominant guards, he still produced an All-Star caliber year beside him. Wall hasn’t played in two seasons due to injury. Any upside to this deal depends on his future health and returning to superstar form.
New Rockets’ General Manager Rafael Stone also made clear he is taking the team in a new direction by trading a Morey favorite in Robert Covington for a future draft pick. Signing talented forward Christian Wood did address a major size weakness on the roster from last year.
James Harden’s Trade Options
His preferred destination was originally focused solely on Brooklyn in an attempt to form a super-trio alongside Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. However, according to Charania’s recent update, these trade talks haven’t progressed as Brooklyn would need them to. This left a more-desperate appearing Harden with only one option: increase his list of preferred destinations.
Analyzing possible trade scenarios for the Houston Rockets
Houston will only consider trading Harden for a huge return, which includes one young star and multiple draft assets, according to sources.
Philadelphia could be a fit, especially considering a deal centered around Ben Simmons or Joel Embiid is realistic. Furthermore, it would allow him to reunite with Morey, which makes a ton of sense for both sides.
Miami is another option. After reaching the NBA Finals last year, we can never discount Pat Riley‘s determination to win. The Heat have a host of young assets that would appeal to Houston. Tyler Herro is the most obvious name after a sensational year. A deal centered around him and 3-point sniper Duncan Robinson may potentially interest the Rockets’ front office. They also have two franchise stars in Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler. Still, it’s unlikely the Heat would consider breaking up their deep roster and risk chemistry issues to obtain Harden.
Milwaukee is desperate to have reigning-MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo stay and sign a super-max extension. A deal for Harden would form a tantalizing duo of superstars. However, because Milwaukee already made a significant trade for guard Jrue Holiday, it’s difficult to see where they have the assets to make any additional offers. This makes Philadelphia and the Heat the most likely suitors on Harden’s list.
Will James Harden be traded?
Houston is in no rush to trade Harden. Having briefly held himself out of camp, he’s since returned and is undergoing COVID-19 league protocols. This is a short-term measure though, as he’s still pushing for a trade. In a player-driven league like the NBA, the most likely outcome is that he’s eventually dealt.
Regardless, these trade demands have left the Rockets in a tough situation. Chemistry is already a headache for first-year head coach Stephen Silas. This isn’t an easy situation for any coach, let alone someone in their first season. Managing the baggage that comes with an unhappy superstar, while also keeping the rest of the roster happy, is an unenviable task. Silas deserves an opportunity to put his own stamp on this team. And, this limbo Houston finds themselves in will continue to hurt unless Harden chooses to buy-in. That seems highly unlikely at this stage.
The thought of losing a top-five player in the NBA is a huge loss for Houston. Throughout his eight-year career in Houston, Harden has produced record-breaking individual years, has won the Most Valuable Player Award, and is considered one of the best scorers of the modern era.
However, it doesn’t have to be the end for Houston. The New Orleans Pelicans and Oklahoma City Thunder are recent examples of franchises that have flourished since trading away their franchise players. A combination of smart trades and asset collecting hastened these rebuilds. If Houston were to command a similar haul for Harden, it could be beneficial for both sides.
Houston also tried to cater to Harden’s previous wishes. He asked for Chris Paul and the front office made it happen. He then wanted Paul to be traded for his friend Westbrook. The front office did that as well. These deals were big swings but didn’t bring the desired championship to Houston. It’s also fair to consider whether Harden is capable of playing beside another star, after Paul and Westbrook’s quick departures.
Harden’s recent rejecting of a contract extension suggests this trade is inevitable, but will it be sooner or later? Now we wait to find out.
Embed from Getty Images