Houston Must Look Toward the Future in a Harden Tradeby Dan Bennett December 14, 2020 0 comments
The news that James Harden had decided he wanted to leave the Houston Rockets sent shockwaves around the NBA and grabbed the attention of some of the league’s top teams.
The Brooklyn Nets and the Philadelphia 76ers were the first two to be linked to a possible Harden trade, while the former MVP has reportedly added the Miami Heat and the Milwaukee Bucks to his list of preferred destinations.
It is somewhat surprising to see the Bucks listed, given his previous animosity with current MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, but Harden’s desire is clear for all to see. He wants a championship ring and does not feel he can win one in Houston.
The Rockets have been active in the offseason, opting to swap Russell Westbrook for John Wall and bringing in DeMarcus Cousins and Christian Wood. Wall and Cousins have linked up well so far in the preseason, suggesting the team may still be able to contend for a playoff spot without Harden.
Yet the issue of their superstar guard’s future looms over the team like a storm cloud, raining on any positivity that might have been generated by Wall’s long anticipated return to the court.
Harden did not show up for training camp on time and will need to clear coronavirus testing before he can link up with his teammates following a, let’s say, eventful offseason which included being spotted partying with rapper Lil Baby in the middle of a global pandemic with no mask on.
Not exactly the type of message an NBA franchise wants to send out and Harden’s unhappiness has put the front office in an awkward position. Do they trade one of the league’s top talents as he wishes or try and keep hold of him in the hope his feelings will change?
For Houston, attention must now turn towards the future. The fans have enjoyed several years of Harden’s heroics, including a run to the Western Conference Finals in 2017-18, but now is the time to move on. Dragging out this situation does none of the parties involved any favors and the team can capitalize on his trade value to build a team for the future.
This is what Houston must place at the center of any Harden trade: The future. Though this also limits the potential destinations for their star shooting guard to land in.
Where is the Best Fit?
Linking up with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant would be Harden’s favored move but this does not give the Rockets the opportunity to build around a younger star in the years to come. A likely trade would consist of Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie and Jarrett Allen. All good players but none with the star potential the team should be striving for in a Harden deal.
Philadelphia, however, presents the chance for Houston to potentially acquire another All-Star guard in Ben Simmons. The 24-year-old’s game differs dramatically from Harden’s and presents the team with the perfect opportunity to move in a new direction and build around a player who has tons of potential.
Simmons is not a great shooter, but his defense, athleticism and finishing at the basket make him one of the most exciting young players in the league. Surrounding him with the right talent in the years to come could make the Rockets a contender once again.
Trading simply for assets is not enough for Houston, as the Nets trade would be. Any deal needs to have the future in mind and would ideally include picks too.
Tyler Herro at the Miami Heat has the potential to be a star, though he needs to prove his ability over more than one season while his rookie contract does not match up with Harden’s deal. Milwaukee have a great player in Khris Middleton that would keep the Rockets competitive for now but is closer to the end of his career than the start.
Houston does not necessarily need to trade Harden to one of his preferred destinations, though it would make the process a lot easier for those involved. The Rockets can trade their star guard to wherever they desire and he has no power to stop it.
Simmons is one of only a few young stars in the league that could realistically be used in a trade for Harden, however. It’s difficult to envisage Boston trading Jayson Tatum, or Denver saying goodbye to Jamal Murray for example. The vast majority of teams like their young stars enough to say no to one of the greatest ever scorers the NBA has seen.
If not Simmons, the Rockets might have to drop down a level when it comes to young talents. There are the likes of Marvin Bagley of the Sacramento Kings, the New Orleans Pelicans’ Brandon Ingram and Andrew Wiggins of the Golden State Warriors that could potentially feature in a possible deal but none would offer what Simmons would.
Nonetheless, the sole aim of a Harden trade for Houston must be to get a young player the team can build around. Houston has to be strong enough to say no to experienced All-Star players and must hold out for someone that can realistically become a big part of the team for many years to come.
Simmons is the best option but if the 76ers decide not to let him leave then it is better to take a Bagley and picks over a Middleton, for example. Trading Harden over the next few months would be the correct decision, but only if it provides Houston with a direction for the future.
Follow Dan Bennett on Twitter @dandbennett97
Main Credit Image: Embed from Getty Images