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NBA rumors: James Harden trade unlikely to happen this season

NBA rumors: James Harden
Jan 10, 2021; Houston, Texas, USA; James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets reacts to a basket during the first quarter of a game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Toyota Center on January 10, 2021 in Houston, Texas. Mandatory Credit: Carmen Mandato/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

James Harden put himself at the center of NBA rumors this offseason by asking for a trade. Now, following weeks of speculation and offers made, the former NBA MVP could be staying with the Houston Rockets.

The drama surrounding one of the NBA’s biggest stars kicked off in November, when he turned down a record-breaking contract extension and requested a trade. Teams like the Brooklyn Nets, Miami Heat and Philadephia 76ers immediately emerged as landing spots. With more clubs getting involved and tension building in Houston, a trade felt inevitable.

Now, with the NBA season rolling on, teams are reportedly starting to look in other directions as the Rockets’ tone on Harden also begins to change.

NBA rumors: Latest on potential James Harden trade

According to The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor, rival NBA teams are starting to believe James Harden may not be traded this season. Even with the Rockets sitting at 3-5 entering play on Monday, there seems to be an increasing belief that Houston will be Harden’s home past the 2021 NBA trade deadline.

“Though James Harden captured the entire league’s focus after demanding a trade, league sources question general manager Rafael Stone’s willingness to deal him this season,” Kevin O’Connor said. “…Front office executives around the NBA say Houston is growing more confident that Harden will be content sticking around at least through the rest of the season.”

Houston’s season started on a rough note. Between Harden skipping practicesviolating COVID-19 protocols and getting called out by his coach, things were ugly. Tensions started boiling over and the situation was quickly becoming toxic inside the locker room.

NBA rumors: James Harden trade not imminent, despite unhealthy environment in Houston

The Rockets started the year 0-2, losing to two teams tied heavily to trade rumors (Portland Trail Blazers, Denver Nuggets) and who were on his list of preferred destinations. Just as everything felt destined for a breaking point, John Wall returned from his NBA-mandated absence for COVID-19 safety and free-agent signee Christian Wood hit his stride.

Now, Harden is starting to buy into the system. Speaking to reporters on Saturday, he mentioned how the team has a chance to do something special and emphasized the importance of strengthening chemistry.

Related: Most realistic James Harden trade packages

The eight-time All-Star guard still wants out of Houston, but he seems open to making things work. Granted, he doesn’t have much of a choice in the matter.

Houston’s exorbitant asking price, with the Philadelphia 76ers required to trade Ben Simmons, plus and the Denver Nuggets being asked for Michael Porter Jr. and more key pieces, is pushing teams away. Harden has kept adding teams to his trade list, but more and more are backing off a blockbuster trade.

There’s certainly no denying the on-court impact he can make, which is driving Houston’s demands in a return. Despite concerns around his conditioning coming into the season, Harden is averaging 26 points and 11 assists per game. Even more impressive, he is playing more within the flow of an offense that is spreading the basketball around. With Wood playing like an All-Star forward and Wall playing like the star many never expected to return, the Rockets could contend for the NBA Playoffs.

NBA rumors: Top contender not interested in James Harden trade due to ‘cultural fit’

Ultimately, a James Harden trade is becoming far more unlikely this season. He is under contract with the Rockets through the 2021-’22 season, before he can exercise a $47.3 million player option or become a 33-year-old free agent in 2022. Houston holds the leverage and with no team willing to meet their price, Harden has to make the best of his current situation.

With one All-Star guard off the market, NBA teams desperate for a star have turned their focus to another electric scorer who would shake up the playoff picture.