The Houston Rockets were apparently thrown for a loop when the James Harden trade demand became public record earlier in November.
Houston had worked with both Harden and fellow former NBA MVP Russell Westbrook in attempting to find a suitable replacement for head coach Mike D’Antoni. The organization “settled” on Dallas Mavericks assistant coach Stephen Silas.
For the Rockets’ brass, owner Tilman Fertitta included, this seemed to indicate both Harden and Westbrook were all in for the 2020-21 NBA season. Not so fast. Reports emerged that the two were not happy with the direction of the organization following the departure of D’Antoni and general manager Daryl Morey.
That was followed up by obvious leaks from Harden’s camp indicating that he had turned down an extension that would have made him the highest-paid player in NBA history on a per-year basis. Quickly after, reports surfaced that Harden preferred a trade to the Brooklyn Nets.
Caught up yet? Sorry, we now have more information on this. It appears that the Rockets are now attempting to try Harden in the court of public opinion.
Houston Rockets upset about James Harden trade demand
There’s a lot to look at here. First off, neither Harden nor his camp has gone on record publicly to demand a trade. Rather, they have used the media to do their bidding.
Secondly, the Rockets do have leverage here. Harden has two seasons remaining on his four-year, $171.1 million contract with Houston. They can afford to play the long game and wait this thing out.
It’s different than the Anthony Davis situation with the New Orleans Pelicans prior to the start of last season in that Davis had an ability to opt out following the 2020-21 season. He did just that with the Los Angeles Lakers.
What does this all mean? There’s so many layers to it.
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James Harden trade: Can the star force himself out of Houston?
- Short of Harden opting not to show up for the start of the 2020-21 season, there’s not a lot he can do here. There’s very little reason to believe that the reigning NBA scoring champ will pull an NFL-like holdout. That would cost him mountains of cash.
- One option is that Harden faces a potential fine from the NBA by taking his trade demand to the media in a more direct manner. That situation would be similar to what we saw in the above-mentioned Davis drama with his former Pelicans team.
- The likeliest scenario is that Harden simply plays out the 2020-21 season should the Rockets not trade him. This would put him in a position to force Houston’s hands next summer. It’s the most-reasonable approach.
Related: Russell Westbrook trade scenarios
What are the Houston Rockets options?
- Trade James Harden. New general manager Rafael Stone is in somewhat of an unenviable situation. He’s working with first-year head coach Stephen Silas on the direction of the Rockets’ roster. With Harden and Westbrooks being unknowns, making a trade sooner rather than later is sensible.
- Then again, Stone might not want to begin his career in this role as a perceived pushover. Caving to the Harden trade demand while receiving less than market value in return would be a bad look for Houston.
- As with Harden, there’s a chance Houston opts to let the entire thing play out throughout the 2020-21 season. Perhaps, the team surprises and contends. After all, the Rockets have added the likes of DeMarcus Cousins and stud young big man Christian Wood to the mix.
Looking at a possible James Harden trade
- If Harden were to be traded here in the next couple weeks, a move sending him to the Brooklyn Nets makes the most sense. Said trade would include Houston picking up stud young core players in that of Jarrett Allen, Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert as well as first-round picks.
- Another potential trade making its rounds includes the Rockets biting the bullet and trading Harden to the conference-rival Golden State Warriors. Said deal would include Houston acquiring Andrew Wiggins, rookie No. 2 pick James Wiseman and a 2021 first-round pick (via Minnesota) as well as future draft capital.
- Not to be outdone, former Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is still looking at potentially bringing Harden into the mix in Philadelphia. Short of adding Ben Simmons or Joel Embiid in a package, it doesn’t seem like the 76ers have enough to offer up.
- As options dwindle for the Rockets, surprise teams will likely come to the forefront as potential options in a James Harden trade. Purely hypothetical, but the New York Knicks could offer up R.J. Barrett and a plethora of picks as the centerpieces. The Chicago Bulls (Zach LaVine, Wendell Carter), Denver Nuggets (Michael Porter Jr.) and New Orleans Pelicans (Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball) could also have the necessary assets.
As it stands, there’s seemingly a lot of friction behind the scenes between Harden and his Rockets. The longer this plays out without a culmination, the more drama we’re going to see unfold.
Should that start to play out in a public forum, both the Rockets and Harden would be seen in a bad light. It would also lead to Houston potentially having to take less than market value in return for the all-time great scorer.
Click below for more Houston Rockets news and further analysis on a potential James Harden trade.