James Harden’s postgame comments have reinflamed trade speculation. We’ve been circling this for weeks so we went deep with a few trade ideas off the beaten path.
Just a few days ago, Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer was reporting that the Houston Rockets were “growing more confident” that James Harden would be happy sticking around for the rest of the season. It was a gust of cold air on trade rumors and speculation that had been red hot just a few weeks before.
Then, Tuesday night, after an ugly 17-point loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, James Harden made the briefest of postgame statements:
“I love this city. I’ve literally done everything I can. This situation is crazy. I don’t think it can be fixed. Thanks.”
And just like that, the trade talk heat is back up to 11.
The James Harden trade shenanigans have been percolating since early in the fall, which means most of the obvious trade ideas have been repeated ad nauseam. But those deals seem likely to be revived — the Nets have other issues to work on, the 76ers are rolling and the Bucks don’t have much incentive to find a creative solution to nab Harden. For the sake of curiosity, I tried to piece together some Harden deals that I hadn’t seen or heard before.
If any of these deals seem absurd keep in mind that I am not an actual NBA general manager. Also, it’s worth noting that even in a perfect world it would be hard for the Rockets to return equal value for a player as great and as unique as Harden. That he’s been playing listless, uninspired basketball for three weeks and seems desperate for an escape hatch certainly hasn’t helped Houston’s leverage.
Where else could James Harden be traded?
For full transparency, the inspiration for this idea is getting Harden in proximity to a Medieval Times restaurant for post-pandemic shenanigans. I just love the idea of him in a paper crown, perched at a jaunty angle, going to town on a turkey leg and screaming at the jousters.
This is something like 65 cents on the dollar for Houston but it might push them back to the playoffs this year which has to be a concern for Tillman Fertitta. Gordon’s upside is razor-thin at this point but he’s a useful rotation piece who could play next to Christian Wood. Fournier is an expiring contract and Bamba and the Magic’s first-round pick are here for future value.
Orlando gets a different kind of headache than the one they’re dealing with now but Harden’s offensive skill could help cement their position in the top half of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
Again, this might only be 70 or 75 cents on the dollar for the Rockets but Buddy Hield is one of the best shooters in the league right now and could be an effective running mate for John Wall. Bagley, at his ceiling, is probably redundant with Christian Wood. He’s been playing terribly and looks VERY far from that hypothetical ceiling but he’s also been playing on the Kings for his entire career so, who knows? And of the four deals here, the Kings’ first-round pick is probably the most valuable, even with Harden improving Sacramento’s outlook after the trade.
The Kings have an interesting young core but don’t really look any closer to turning it into something meaningful. Harden might be a drag on the development of De’Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton but he’s probably good enough to make the Kings a playoff contender and the importance of that benchmark can’t be understated for a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2005-06.
Of all the pieces coming back in these four deals, Michael Porter Jr. probably has the most star potential. His shooting and offensive versatility would make him a nice fit next to Christian Wood and Harris and Barton are both solid role players who would keep both the floor and ceiling of the Rockets’ relatively high for this year.
For Denver, a Harden trade (without moving Jamal Murray) would make them one of the weirdest and most fascinating offenses in the league. It would take some accommodation on Harden’s part and a willingness to play an off-ball role he’s mostly declined to take up in Houston. But Harden-Murray-Jokic might legitimately be the most skilled offensive core in the league (and the worst defensively).
This is probably the least returning value for the Rockets, maybe something like 50 cents on the dollar. Bledsoe is definitely not a long-term piece for Houston but they could try and flip him for something else before the deadline. Ball may or may not be a player they want to invest in but at the very least he’s a solid backup for Wall for the rest of the season. The first-round pick probably comes in the middle of the round but it’s not nothing, especially in this highly touted class. Hayes is cherry on top, although admittedly not a super-appealing one. He’s a janky fit next to Wood but he still appears to have a bright future. If the Rockets can pull a third team in to get the Pelican another primary ball-handler than maybe they could negotiate Kira Lewis instead of Hayes.
It’s a discouraging slate of options but watching Harden sleepwalk through the rest of the season can’t be that appealing either.