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NBA rumors: Giannis Antetokounmpo contract could be boon for Rockets in James Harden trade

NBA rumors: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Dec 19, 2019; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) celebrates with forward Khris Middleton (22) after defeating the Los Angeles Lakers at Fiserv Forum. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

NBA rumors have been hitting at a furious clip as the truncated 2020 offseason comes to a conclusion and the regular season gets going here in about a week. Some of those rumors have given in to concrete news. That includes the Milwaukee Bucks signing Giannis Antetokounmpo to a record-breaking extension one week before their opener.

This could have a major trickle-down effect with one domino still to fall and some teams already looking ahead to the 2021 NBA offseason. Obviously, we’re talking about the James Harden trade demand.

Related: NBA Power Rankings – Warriors and Celtics remain at the top after first wave of free agency

NBA rumors: Giannis Antetokounmpo contract could be boon for Rockets in James Harden trade

NBA rumors: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Feb 17, 2019; Charlotte, NC, USA; Team Giannis forward Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks (34), Team Giannis guard Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors (30) and Team Giannis center Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets (15) react during the 2019 NBA All-Star Game at Spectrum Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Now that Giannis is locked up long term, three of the top free agents for the summer of 2021 have inked long-term deal. The Greek Freak joins LeBron James and Paul George in that exclusive group. As of right now, Kawhi Leonard would be the top free agent next summer should he decide to opt out of his current contract. That’s also dependent on Leonard deciding not to sign a long-term deal with the Los Angeles Clippers.

What does this mean for the Houston Rockets and James Harden? Well, it’s rather simple. The three-time reigning NBA scoring champion has two years remaining on his deal. Houston was already working with a competitive advantage when taking that into account.

Now that Giannis Antetokounmpo has opted to sign a long-term deal with the Bucks, other contending teams are between a rock and a hard place. Some might have viewed Harden as a backup plan in case the Giannis remained in Milwaukee. That’s no longer the case. James Harden is the top prize. It’s not close. Add in the fact that the three top free agents slated for next summer are off the market, and this is magnified even further.

NBA rumors: Stars in line for huge extensions

NBA rumors had suggested in the past that the Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat were going to chase after Giannis Antetokounmpo. To a lesser extent, the New York Knicks wanted to be involved.

Of those three teams, the Warriors and Heat have been most linked to James Harden. Now that Giannis is off the table, they don’t have much of a retort when it comes to trade negotiations with the Rockets.

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NBA rumors: Houston Rockets already sky-high asking price for James Harden

NBA rumors: James Harden
April 30, 2019; Oakland, CA, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) dribbles the basketball against Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) during the first quarter in game two of the second round of the 2019 NBA Playoffs at Oracle Arena. The Warriors defeated the Rockets 115-109. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

This all comes on the heels of other NBA rumors suggesting that Houston was demanding Ben Simmons and three first-round picks from the Philadelphia 76ers for James Harden. That’s a non-starter for new Sixers front office head Daryl Morey.

However, it does give us some incite as it relates to the Rockets’ thought process as the organization deals with a ton of drama behind the scenes. They know they’re negotiating from a position of strength. Tuesday’s Giannis Antetokounmpo news only adds to this.

Houston is not interested in Kyrie Irving as the centerpiece in any James Harden trade. The team has already scoffed at a package surrounding youngsters Jarrett Allen, Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert. If the Nets want to acquire Harden, they’ll have to get a third team involved to send a blue-chip prospect back to Houston.

Related: NBA Power Rankings – Warriors and Celtics remain at the top after first wave of free agency

As for the Warriors’ reported interest in James Harden, it was likely under the guise that Giannis Antetokounmpo would in fact return to the Bucks on a super-max extension. After all, Golden State has been focused on the Greek Freak over the past couple years.

Given the team has continued with its all-in motto, an expensive proposition mind you, could Houston force Golden State to pull off a lopsided trade for Harden? It’s more than possible.

Of course, other NBA rumors suggest that mystery teams could be involved in the James Harden sweepstake. He listed the Milwaukee Bucks as one of his preferred destinations. However unlikely that might be, consider how a Harden-Giannis duo would look in Wisconsin.

What we do know is that there’s a ton of drama behind the scenes involving Harden and his Rockets. At the very least, Tuesday’s Giannis Antetokounmpo put the organization in a better position when it comes to trade talks.

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