Rockets' James Harden during NBA Playoff Game against Lakers
Sep 10, 2020; Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) reacts after getting called for a foul in the first half against the Los Angeles Lakers in game four of the second round of the 2020 NBA Playoffs at AdventHealth Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Barring a miraculous three-game winning streak against the NBA title favorites in that of the Los Angeles Lakers, James Harden and the Houston Rockets will face another premature playoff exit.

Down 2-1 in their Western Conference Semifinals series againt Los Angeles, the Rockets fell flat on their faces Thursday evening in Orlando. Harden himself made two more field goals than yours truly in the must-win game. He attempted a total of 11 shots throughout the evening. It was a career-worst performance.

Following the game, the former NBA MVP didn’t have a real answer to a question that pretty much everyone was asking.

We know the narrative surrounding these Rockets. We know that they have choked big time in the biggest games the team has played during the Harden era.

It’s now time for Houston general manager Daryl Morey to finally pull the plug on this project.

The Rockets need to trade James Harden

  • In their current iteration, these Rockets are nowhere near NBA title contenders. We saw it last season when the team came up small against the Kevin Durant-less Golden State Warriors. It’s on the verge of being repeated this season.
  • Morey deserves some of the blame in that he built a small-ball lineup that was always going to struggle against bigger teams. Thursday night’s loss magnified this. Anthony Davis and LeBron James secured more combined rebounds (27) than the entire Rockets team (26). That’s just not acceptable.
  • It now has to be clear to Morey that these Rockets in their current form can’t compete with the big boys in the NBA. Remember, the general manager noted ahead of the playoffs that it was championship or bust. How’s that working out?

James Harden and Russell Westbrook are not a fit

  • Remember, this duo teamed up in Oklahoma City with Kevin Durant. Three future Hall of Famers. Three generational talents. Zero NBA titles.
  • That should have been seen as a warning sign for Morey before he pulled off the blockbuster trade for Westbrook last summer. Sadly, he did not take note.
  • After one more season together, it’s become clear that this pairing is not in any way capable of leading Houston to championship contention. And in reality, Westbrook’s contract is nearly impossible to trade. Houston is stuck with him for the foreseeable future.

James Harden trade could help Rockets expedite a rebuild

  • We saw it first-hand with the Oklahoma City Thunder team this season. After trading Paul George and Westbrook away last summer, the expectation was that Oklahoma City was in the early stages of a rebuild.
  • That did not come to fruition. Led by Chris Paul and a cast of youngsters, Oklahoma City earned a spot in the NBA Playoffs and performed well against these very same Rockets in the first round.
  • Something similar could be in the cards for Houston should it decide to blow this whole thing up. Even with his playoff struggles, Harden would be a coveted asset on the trade market. Houston would net a whole lot in return.

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Hypothetical James Harden trades

  • Contending teams would come calling at nearly every turn if the Rockets decided to take on bids for Harden. It would be among the most widespread trade markets in NBA history.
  • For example, the Philadelphia 76ers might be willing to offer up Ben Simmons and the contract of Al Horford for Harden. Add in a couple draft picks, and that would set Houston up well moving forward.
  • Out west, what is to stop the Denver Nuggets from getting in on this action? Youngster Michael Porter Jr. would be the centerpiece in any trade with Gary Harris and Will Barton acting as salary fillers. From there, Denver would have to offer up multiple first-round picks. That’s a need for Houston given the price it paid to acquire the above-mentioned Westbrook.
  • These are just two of many examples — trades that could shake up the foundation of the Rockets moving forward.

Bottom line: The Rockets are in need of major changes

Trading Russell Westbrook is not even realistic at this point given his regression and bloated contract. Houston does not have a ton of other assets to refuel this thing on the fly.

The major chip Houston has as it hopefully looks to start anew with a rebuild is Mr. Harden. The team is capped out. Owner Tilman Fertitta will not go into the luxury tax. They lack the draft picks to build from within.

At this point, the inconceivable should become reality. Trade James Harden and blow this thing up right now.

Vincent Frank
Editor here at Sportsnaut. Contributor at Forbes. Previous bylines include Bleacher Report, Yahoo!, SB Nation. Heard on ESPN Radio and NBC Sports Radio. Northern California native living it up in Las Vegas. The Keto lifestyle. Traveler. Reader. TV watcher. Dog daddy. Sam Malone = greatest TV character ever. "Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary," John Keating.