Analyzing the James Harden Trade Market
As the James Harden situation in Houston continues to stagnate, it’s still unclear where the superstar will play basketball in the next few weeks and months. According to Shams Charania, Harden would consider a trade to other top contenders like the Bucks or Heat, joining Brooklyn and Philadelphia as his preferred destinations.
There may not be any substance to this - maybe Harden understands his fixation on joining the Nets severely weakened his trade value. Now, Houston has more options in building an agreeable package to get Harden out of town.
James Harden and the Rockets are currently in a staring contest. After eight years of catering to the Beard, the former MVP wants out in Houston. That said, Harden is under contract for two more seasons. New general manager Rafael Stone is in no rush.
In the NFL, players sitting on the sidelines and holding out until the situation changes is somewhat common. Despite the player empowerment in the NBA, this move is much more rare. He could face fines or pay cuts for missing games. The Rockets have surprising leverage given the nature of the situation.
Houston could hold on to Harden and keep him on the roster for two years if they wanted. In this staring contest, the Rockets front office will only blink if they think they have a significant trade package lined up. That said, dragging this situation out much longer could truly depress Harden’s value around the league.
James Harden knows this, too. That is why he is trying to force management’s hand. Instead of going to training camp, he’s openly been partying on social media in Las Vegas. Essentially what he is doing is sending Houston the message that he has no interest in being a Rocket and will continue to be a huge distraction – with the goal being that they eventually realize they have no choice but to trade him while he still has peak value.
This is why the Rockets eventually have to just give in. In recent history, we’ve seen massive trade packages for stars like Anthony Davis and Paul George. Even Jrue Holiday fetched a very pretty penny. Houston will expect a significant haul for Harden, who is a perennial MVP candidate and one of the finest offensive players in the NBA.
There are, though, restrictions for getting this deal done soon. Rookies and players who joined new teams during the offseason won’t be trade eligible until January and beyond. Still, let’s jump into some potential James Harden trade suitors.
The trade market starts with Philly. The Sixers have the most enticing piece to offer the Rockets: Ben Simmons. Simmons is only 24 years old, and already an All-Star and All-NBA player. He is also under contract for five more years.
This fits everything the Rockets would be looking for, as the team has been insistent that it reel in a young star. The Sixers, knowing this, have no incentive to give the game away. Philly will push back on including anything else to a would be deal, because they know no one has a better piece to include.
After some negotiation, though, this is a what a solid compromise might look like:
This deal will center around Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie, Jarret Allen, picks, and maybe some other young guys on their roster. The Nets package is the floor and will likely be used as leverage in other trade debates. But given Harden’s insistence on ending up in Brooklyn, there is extra motivation for the Nets to make this happen.
The problem with the Brooklyn package, though, is that it has a relatively low ceiling and real downside. Spencer Dinwiddie will be hitting the open market after this season, Caris LeVert is a huge injury risk, and Jarret Allen is set to get paid this offseason as well. Brooklyn will need to get creative to work a deal out.
Maybe they can re-route Dinwiddie/Allen to other teams to get some sort of asset that has more upside. A few more future firsts could also help. One of the simpler versions of the deal would look like this:
Golden State Warriors:
The Golden State package will be based around James Wiseman and draft compensation. They have a highly-coveted, lightly protected Minnesota 2021 first round pick. Wiseman can’t be traded for a few more weeks, but is the sort of young player Houston is looking for.
The salary filler conversation is very interesting too, I’m sure the Rockets would push for Klay Thompson instead of Andrew Wiggins. Thompson is likely off the table, but with Klay set to miss another full season, perhaps Golden State considers it. Here are two examples of trades where either Klay or Wiggins are used to match Harden’s hefty salary:
New Orleans Pelicans:
The Pelicans are a dark horse team here. There has not been any reporting on this, just an interesting team to keep an eye on.
This deal made a lot more sense when Jrue Holiday was around, but Eric Bledso still fits next to Harden for a lot of the same reasons. Harden would allow this version of the Pelicans to be significantly better the next two years and allow them to take advantage of Zion right away. T
he Pelicans would only be interested in this type of deal if they were not sold on Ingram. If they aren’t, swapping him for someone who will almost guarantee success the next two years, plus putting the team in a one All-Star away from serious contention is a solid contingency plan.
From the Rockets point of view Brandon Ingram and light draft compensation would be the return. He is not as proven as Ben Simmons but getting a legit super young All-Star is a pretty good consolation prize and definitely worth considering. Here’s what a deal could look like: