Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

Houston has a Harden problem, but it's a problem they should wait to solve

Should he stay or should he go? Probably the latter. But not yet.
Should he stay or should he go? Probably the latter. But not yet.
Photo: AP

Ain’t nobody gonna start defending Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta, or as my homie Jarod Hector of TrueHoop calls him, “The Broke Boy.” There’s no “but,” either, that’s just the opening disclaimer to the following passage.

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We’re all generally pro-player on this site. Generally. But the Houston Rockets would be smart to continue their patient approach with any potential James Harden trade despite his request. The returns just aren’t yet worthy of a player many of you have in your respective top fives. Harden is 31 and entering his 12th NBA season, still in his athletic prime, though he’s still signed for three more years and over $131 million (!!).

Earlier this morning ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne and Adrian Wojnarowski reported that The Beard still wants to be elsewhere even after the Rockets swapped Russell Westbrook for John Wall.

They wrote:

“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, sources told ESPN. After making his Rockets preseason debut this past weekend, Wall expressed hope that Harden might become excited about playing with him in a backcourt — a prospect that Harden is rejecting as he prepares to rejoin the team Monday in practice, sources said. ‘I think me and James can be a heck of a combination,’ Wall told reporters after the Rockets’ 104-91 loss to the Chicago Bulls on Sunday night. I just hope we get the opportunity to get into the regular season and see how it goes.”

As noted last week, Harden’s personal trade list is headlined by the Brooklyn Nets, but also now includes the Philadelphia 76ers, Miami Heat, and Milwaukee Bucks. At this rate, the Los Angeles Clippers, Kentucky Wildcats, and New York Liberty might all be next.

In any event, the Rockets are entirely justified in holding off on any Harden deal between now and the March 25 trade deadline. In recent years, we’ve seen an abundance of players force their way out of teams, like Anthony Davis in New Orleans and Kawhi Leonard in San Antonio. Increasingly, in the player empowerment era, athlete movement has been frequent in the NBA, forcing the hand of organizations that subsequently lose leverage because of the initial trade request. For Harden, in particular, it doesn’t appear that the Rockets could entice him to want to stay, even with Wall in play, and playing very well in preseason so far. But it’s worth it for the Rockets, who don’t appear to have received an enviable trade package, to have Harden play at least the first couple of months in Houston anyway.

The Nets package for Harden is highlighted by anyone but Kevin Durant or Kyrie Irving, and the Heat have been unwilling to include Tyler Herro… and the Sixers don’t wanna include Joel Embiid or Ben Simmons either, so…

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In fact, Yaron Weitzman — author of Tanking To The Top, an oral history of the Sixers trust the process era — reported that the Rockets are asking for Simmons and three first-rounders in exchange for Harden. It also highlights how Harden is valued by Houston at the moment.

OK, so why would Houston want to do this again? If Miami isn’t even willing to part with Herro, and Philly won’t offer either of their two young stars, whom we’re not even sure like one another, and if the Nets are only offering a package led by Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Jarrett Allen, what’s the point? (And yes, it’d probably be best for the Nets to come up with a package that includes Irving, sorry.)

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The Rockets might actually be competitive this year as it stands now, too. It’s still very early, but Wall and DeMarcus Cousins look like an interesting reunion of Kentucky alums. Christian Wood is a promising acquisition, and at the moment, Harden is still Harden.

It’s very simple as it relates to a Harden deal: If you’re not getting back his worth, say no for as long as you can. Houston has a problem, but a problem they should wait to solve.