For the first time today, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski has indicated that the Houston Rockets’ disgruntled star James Harden is open to being traded to the Philadelphia 76ers, although the teams have not yet had “substantive talks.”
Reporting w/ @ESPN_MacMahon: James Harden has recently indicated to Houston he'd be open to a trade to Philadelphia or other contenders. So far, no substantive talks with Sixers. Daryl Morey's been adamant he wants to keep his two young stars. https://t.co/9ZFKB8MSGx— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) December 8, 2020
Previously, Woj had insisted Harden was focused on finding a way to be traded to the Brooklyn Nets. Shams Charania of The Athletic reported Harden was open to a trade to either Brooklyn or Philly back in mid-November.
Rockets star James Harden wants to be on a contender elsewhere, and Brooklyn and Philadelphia are believed to be his top desired trade destinations, sources tell @TheAthleticNBA @Stadium.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) November 16, 2020
Houston is fully comfortable keeping Harden and Russell Westbrook into the season.
When Rockets players were required to report to training camp, Harden was in Atlanta, attending a birthday party for rapper Lil Baby in violation of COVID-19 guidelines.
RocketsWire provides an excellent timeline of what has transpired since. Harden missed an individual workout on Sunday, and new head coach Stephen Silas called it “a setback,” saying “there is no timetable.” Harden told the Rockets he would report “soon,” but he posted on Instagram from Las Vegas a few hours later.
Harden also posted the following Instagram story on Sunday (this particular screenshot was captured by @GipperGrove on Twitter):
This afternoon, Harden finally arrived in Houston. Silas didn’t have much to say about it.
Rockets coach Stephen Silas confirms that James Harden got tested in Houston today. "That's pretty much all I know," he said. https://t.co/HVl2OmoJy9— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) December 8, 2020
Harden is a former MVP and one of the league’s very best players. He will always be tied to new Sixers President of Basketball Operations Daryl Morey, whose most notable move as Rockets General Manager was acquiring Harden from the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2012. However, there have also been rumors of Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta not wanting to trade Harden back to Daryl Morey.
With rumors heating up, we talked to Jeremy Brener of our sister blog The Dream Shake to get a Rockets perspective and Justin Carter of NetsRepublic.com (and formerly of Liberty Ballers) to get a Nets perspective on a potential James Harden trade.
Q&A with Jeremy Brener of The Dream Shake
LB: Is there any chance the Sixers can put together a good enough package without Simmons?
Brener: No. I think Daryl Morey tried but was unsuccessful. The advantage Houston has in negotiating with Philadelphia is that they know how much Morey values Harden, so it baffled me when there were reports that said the Sixers could pry away Harden without Simmons. He’s easily the most “tradeable” asset, but Morey has consistently praised him and it looks like he wants to build a contender with Simmons on board.
LB: How interested are you in a potential Nets package without Kyrie Irving?
Brener: I’m lukewarm at this point. I don’t believe the Nets would trade Kyrie but I could see the Rockets getting a boatload of picks from the Nets a la Paul Pierce and KG. The Nets also have a smaller contending window than the Sixers (likely two years), so if the Rockets could net back a bunch of picks that aren’t during the championship window, I’d be happy even if the current players coming back in the deal aren’t as talented as a potential Sixers package.
LB: Would you prefer a package from the Nets involving Kyrie Irving, Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Jarrett Allen or a Sixers offer with Ben Simmons?
Brener: It’s all about the picks for me. You’re looking at somewhere in the neighborhood of 5-7 first rounders. It also won’t be a straight up Harden-for-Simmons swap either. They would likely have to throw in Matisse Thybulle, Tyrese Maxey and all of the picks. If Kyrie is in the trade, it’s obviously fewer picks. However, I’d be worried about Kyrie’s commitment to Houston. He chose to go to Brooklyn with Kevin Durant, and this would set him on a path he didn’t choose, making it unlikely that he would stay past his two-year deal.
LB: How likely is it a deal is made before the start of the season? Before the deadline?
Brener: If you asked me before training camp, I would have told you it was slim. Now, his holdout increases his chances of getting dealt. However, I think Rafael Stone will still maintain his ground. His urgency hasn’t changed much. The Rockets still hold a lot of the leverage and they are only going to take an offer that they feel comfortable with. At this point, with the season kicking off in two weeks, there’s a 40% chance he’s dealt. By the deadline, it’s 50/50.
LB: Are there any other teams you expect to make competitive offers for Harden?
Brener: I wouldn’t be shocked if Boston or Miami makes a push. They have the packages that could intrigue the Rockets and have been known to make high-profile trades for stars. Boston has traded for Kyrie and Miami has traded for Alonzo Mourning and Shaquille O’Neal in the past. However, I think both of those teams are content with what they have now. On top of that, neither team would deal with Houston unless they can get Harden to commit longterm.
I know Golden State was rumored to be interested, but that interest seems to have waned as well. I think he’s going out East since the West is more top-heavy and the East is more competitive.
My absolute dark horse candidate is Toronto. Masai Ujiri took the risk on Kawhi Leonard two years ago and it paid off even though he left after one year. And with Kyle Lowry on an expiring deal, maybe a deal for Lowry, OG Anunoby and a few first round picks gets it done for Houston. The Rockets will ask for Siakam, but the Raptors would likely hedge. If the Rockets could find a way to get Siakam though, I think Stone has to say yes.
LB: Do you believe the rumor of Tilman Fertitta not wanting to trade Harden to Morey?
Brener: I think it’s possible, yes. However, I also think that Fertitta would approve the trade if it is the best outcome for his team. It’s easy to paint Fertitta as the villain in this scenario, but his actions show that he isn’t afraid to dip into the luxury tax. He offered the $50M/yr extension to Harden, gave Eric Gordon a pricey extension and took on salary for the Russell Westbrook and Christian Wood trades. There’s obviously something that doesn’t add up though with all of this smoke, but ultimately I don’t think it’s going to force GM Rafael Stone to not send Harden to Philly, if that ever were to happen.
Q&A with Justin Carter of Nets Republic
LB: How likely is it the Nets include Kyrie Irving in a James Harden deal?
Carter: I’d think the Nets do whatever they can to make sure Kyrie isn’t in any Harden deal. It’s obviously possible they include him if it’s a sticking point for Houston because Harden’s a top five player, but with Kyrie coming to Brooklyn as a kind of package deal with Kevin Durant last year, things might be complicated, you know?
The Nets will try to make a deal work that involves younger players like Jarrett Allen and Caris LeVert. The Bruce Brown trade seemed to signal to me that they were looking to add depth that could take the place of other depth that was shipped out. We’ll see, I guess. Again, I’d include Kyrie in a Harden deal, but the front office will likely be very hesitant to do so.
LB: How would Harden fit in Brooklyn?
Carter: He’s James Harden. He’ll fit anywhere.
But yeah, the coaching staff Brooklyn has put together includes Mike D’Antoni, so Harden should be able to slide in and operate well in this offense. A Harden/Kyrie backcourt can work, because we saw a Harden/CP3 backcourt work, so D’Antoni can handle having a pair of ball-dominant guards in his backcourt.
And unlike in Houston, there’d be a third star in Kevin Durant to take even more pressure off Harden. He won’t have to do everything! He’ll be more efficient than ever! It would be great! Let’s make this happen!
Thank you to Jeremy Brener and Justin Carter for sharing their thoughts with Liberty Ballers!