Word is James Harden wants out of Hoston — and fast. While Harden is under contract through 2023, he’ll likely get his wish long before then. At least that’s been the trend during the NBA “player empowerment” era, where superstars jump teams regularly to team-up with their friends.
And of course, there’s a lot of teams willing to send a king’s ransom in exchange for Harden, one of the most offensively-gifted players in league history. Any team with Harden on the floor instantly becomes an offensive juggernaut and NBA title contender.
Let’s play a little armchair NBA general manager and envision the best and most-plausible destinations for Harden — both for the player himself and how Houston can make out in the deal.
This one’s the most-talked about landing spot for Harden and the link between the two teams is Darly Morey. For 13 years, Morey presided over Houston’s operations and earned a reputation as one of the most trade-happy GM’s in all of basketball. No deal Morey orchestrated during his Rockets’ tenure was bigger than landing Harden from Oklahoma City back in 2012.
Eventually the Morey-Houston relationship soured and the two parted ways this offseason. He’s since joined the 76ers and is now tasked with erasing the team’s label for underachieving. Dealing for Harden a second time could be atop Morey’s priorities in that quest.
And here’s the thing: Philly actually has bargaining chips to dangle in front of Houston to make it happen. None are bigger than point guard Ben Simmons. He’s a tweener star — as in good enough to earn an All-Star selection, but probably not good enough to lead you to a championship.
At least that’s been the case so far during his stint with Philly. His pairing with Joel Embiid has produced nothing better than a second-round playoff appearance. But at only 24 years old, he’s worth a gamble if you’re Houston because there’s a chance he can take the next step in his young career.
A Harden-for-Simmons trade (plus picks and other players) makes a lot of sense for two teams that have failed to “get over the hump” in recent years. Plus, Morey’s familiarity with the Rockets’ organization clears many other front-office hurdles, too.
According to NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski, atop Harden’s own wish list is the Nets. A move to Brooklyn would reunite him with former Thunder teammate, Kevin Durant, and form a new “big three” alongside Kyrie Irving.
Woj also mentioned Rockets are looking for “a package that includes a young franchise cornerstone and a bundle of first-round picks and/or talented players on rookie contracts” in return for Haden’s services.
Honestly speaking, the Nets have little to offer in the form of players. Sure, they have solid pieces like Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Taurean Prince, but neither fit the bill as a “franchise cornerstones” — certainly not compared to the aforementioned Simmons. If Brooklyn is to pull off this move, they’ll likely need to send a multitude of first-round picks the Rockets way.
But of course, never underestimate the pull of a superstar the caliber of Harden. In the last year alone, we’ve seen players like Anthony Davis and Paul George force teams to the very team they wanted. Perhaps Harden can pull similar strings.
Another team that Harden holds in high regard are the defending Eastern Conference champs, Miami. This according to another NBA insider, Shams Charania.
Of course, Pat Riley runs the shows in South Beach and he’s pulled off an unthinkable heist before — signing LeBron James and Chris Bosh in a single offseason, unofficially creating the “player empowerment” era that currently exists.
The Heat certainly have some intriguing pieces to give up. Streaky shooters Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson immediately come to mind. We wouldn’t call them “franchise cornerstones” either, but like Brooklyn, a bevy of picks would need to be added to make the deal happen. But again, we wouldn’t count out a shark like Riley in figuring out how to do so.
The Harden-Houston drama will likely be a talking point for months to come. If and when something is resolved, don’t be surprised to see Harden playing for one of the above team.s