• Kyle Russell

Should the Miami Heat Trade for James Harden?

As the Houston Rockets teeter on the edge of rebuild, their superstar James Harden has requested to be traded to a team he feels can contend now for a title. That list of teams was recently expanded to include the Miami Heat, the surprise Eastern Conference Champion of last season.

At first glance this seems like a no brainer, Harden is clearly one of the best players in the league. And yet, there exists a compelling argument that the Heat would be better off staying pat and seeing what their young core does going forward. After going back and forth on this for several days, I still can’t say for sure which is the right answer. Instead, let's look over the case for and the case against trading for Harden, and you can decide for yourself.

For the purposes of this exercise, here will be the proposed trade package:

Miami gets James Harden in exchange for giving up Tyler Herro (centerpiece), Duncan Robinson (great young player), Kelly Olynyk (salary), Andre Iguodala (salary), one of either Kendrick Nunn or Precious Achiuwa (young player and salary), and some draft assets.

It’s a lot, but Harden is worth a lot. Now let’s make the cases.

Why the Heat Shouldn’t

The Heat have a good thing going for them right now, with a great core of players made up of young talent and veteran experience that got them to Game 6 of the NBA Finals. Even with minimal improvement from young players or drop off from older players, this is a roster that at worst is a Finals contender. They’re also well positioned to go into next offseason with the capacity to get a max level player in free agency and still retain key players. This is by no means their only path to another All-NBA level player to add to the roster.

If you’re a believer in Tyler Herro, there’s also no way you pass up on what he could become. Herro is already considered a rising young player that can compete for Most Improved Player next season. If he builds on that into a perennial All-Star, the Heat would have a long-term partner, with complementary skills, for newly extended Bam Adebayo.

Robinson has also come a long way from the G League to one of the NBA’s best shooters and a primary threat for opposing defenses. As his defense improves, he’ll only become that much more valuable to what Miami does.

This young core just got their first real playoff run and it ended in the Finals, with improvement Miami could be set up to run the East for the next decade.

Last but not least, that’s a ton to give up for one player and it could backfire catastrophically. Fair or not, Harden has a reputation for dominating the ball iso play after iso play and for flaming out in the playoffs. The former is antithetical to Miami’s movement heavy system while the latter is obviously a playoff run killer. Should Harden clash with not getting to play his iso heavy style and/or turn in a dud that ends in Miami’s elimination, the title window could shut quickly.

With only two years left before a player option, Harden could leave Miami after they spent everything to get him. The Heat would still be a fringe playoff team with Adebayo and a much older Jimmy Butler, but they wouldn’t be title contenders and they wouldn’t have any assets to become one.

Why the Heat Should

It’s James freakin’ Harden. He’s led the league in scoring for the past three seasons, led in assists the season before that, has perennially been in the MVP conversation while winning one, and has been All-NBA first team for the last four years.

Whatever kind of scoring threat Herro could potentially become, Harden is that right now but at an all-time level. Butler (9.1 free throw attempts per game last season) and Harden (11.8 FTA per game last season, league leading) on the same team would be instant foul trouble for opponents. His elite scoring, playmaking, and solid defense are a perfect fit for Butler and Adebayo. The floor with a core of those three this season and next would be title contenders.

If that’s the floor, the ceiling is even more enticing. More than just a marketing ploy, the Heat’s vaunted “culture” is a system that has consistently gotten career years out of established players like James Johnson, Dion Waiters, and Wayne Ellington. By buying into the Heat’s intense conditioning and Head Coach Erik Spoelstra’s egalitarian system, Harden could also find himself having a career year in Miami. These changes should also help keep Harden better rested to avoid playoff flameouts.

If Harden has included Miami on his list, chances are he knows and accepts the standards Miami sets for its players. Rising to that standard could unlock another level to what is already one of the game’s best players, cementing Miami as the title favorite.

Lastly, losing all that depth for Harden might not matter. Even with that trade package, Miami still has one of Achiuwa or Nunn, Meyers Leonard, Goran Dragic, Mo Harkless, and Avery Bradely. With Harden, Butler, and Adebayo that’s an eight-man rotation with enough depth to contend. Beyond that, Miami has had a knack for finding productive players like Hassan Whiteside (pre-big contract), Nunn, and Robinson either overseas or undrafted.

Their scouting and development have been amongst the best in the league, and if it continues there’s no reason they couldn’t find valuable players and sign them to cheap deals. Add in veterans willing to take a discount to compete for a ring and Miami shouldn’t have a problem with depth.

The Verdict

This may be taking the easy way out, but I don’t think there’s really a wrong answer here. Both sides of the argument are compelling and set Miami up to be a potentially long term title contender. It’s a good problem to have.

At the time of this writing, I believe Miami should trade for Harden. If the point of an NBA team is to win the title, Harden is the type of proven elite talent that makes them a title contender now, not hypothetically one in the future. Harden’s former team the Oklahoma City Thunder tried to play it cute by trading him and banking they be regulars in the NBA Finals, only to then never make it there again. Recently, the Los Angeles Lakers went all in on getting Anthony Davis and beat the Heat to win a title, validating that decision.

Heat President Pat Riley knows well himself how quickly a title window can close, getting at least one ring is imperative. By all accounts Harden sounds ready and willing to do what is needed to win a championship. In Miami, it’s not hard to imagine that being a reality.