James Harden is still a member of the Houston Rockets. For now.
But, like most things in 2020, that’s subject to change.
The three-time scoring champ has been angling for a change of address, and to the surprise of no one, trade talks involving and around him are dominating the rumor mill. Let’s break down the latest buzz.
There were myriad tidbits to take away from Houston’s trade of Russell Westbrook for John Wall and a first-round draft pick. Among them, there was perhaps the fleeting hope that a change at point guard might cool Harden’s desire for a scenery change.
But no such luck, Space City.
“The arrival of John Wall has left All-NBA guard James Harden unmoved and uninterested in pursuing a new partnership, and the franchise star continues to push the Houston Rockets for a trade,” ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne reported.
This is about as surprising as the ending of a holiday movie on the Hallmark Channel. Wall made his last appearance in a regular-season game in Dec. 2018 and has been busy taking the long road back from an Achilles tear. It’s hard to say with any certainty how much gas he has left in the tank, and Harden is apparently disinterested in waiting around to find out.
Harden’s exit from Houston continues to feel more a matter of when than if.
The Brooklyn Nets reportedly remain atop Harden’s list of preferred destinations, offering, among other things, a chance to reunite with former teammate Kevin Durant.
But the question continues to be what the Nets can send back to the Rockets to make this work. A Harden trade would almost certainly send Houston spiraling into a top-to-bottom rebuild, in which case the franchise would have little use for 26-year-old Caris LeVert or 27-year-old Spencer Dinwiddie, players most often mentioned in hypothetical Nets moves.
There’s a chance an established All-Star Kyrie Irving could have fans in Houston, but so far the point guard hasn’t popped up in any discussions. “The Nets aren’t interested in trading Kyrie Irving, nor have the Rockets expressed an interest in acquiring him,” Shelburne and Wojnarowski reported.
If Irving happened to be included in a blockbuster exchange at some point, he probably wouldn’t be headed to the Rockets but rather to a third team with a younger player the club could build around. But the ESPN scribes reported that for now “there’s no indication that prospect has gained any traction in recent weeks.”
Plenty has changed since Philadelphia 76ers general manager Elton Brand told reporters the team was “not looking to trade” franchise cornerstones Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons in August. That stance apparently isn’t one of those things.
“For now, the Sixers are unwilling to include All-Stars Joel Embiid or Ben Simmons in trades,” Wojnarowski and Shelburne reported.
Unless that stance softens, Harden probably isn’t headed to Philadelphia. It’s hard enough to make the money work on a Harden-to-Philly deal that doesn’t involve Embiid or Simmons unless Houston’s front office just so happens to include the world’s biggest Tobias Harris fan. The Sixers have prospects and picks that could work as trade filler, but they lack the standalone centerpiece the Rockets need in return.
A Simmons-for-Harden megatrade is about as interesting as fake swaps get, but for now, it’s nothing more than a fun mental exercise ahead of the season’s opening tip.