Whether that will be enough to keep Harden in Houston long term is another question entirely.
Reports out of Houston in the wake of the massive Harden for Westbrook trade say this is what Harden wanted — just like he wanted Chris Paul out and Westbrook in before that, and Dwight Howard out and CP3 in before that. Here’s how ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski put it when on the network’s Get Up show:
He had a preference of John Wall over Westbrook, although in the last couple years, Harden has moved teammates in and out. Brought Chris Paul in, moved him out, same with Russell Westbrook now. Whether that’s going to be enough to want to be there long term, Rockets aren’t sure about that. They do have a cushion to work with; remember James Harden is under contract for two more years.
That is the other theme in Houston: The front office did what Harden wanted, but it’s not necessarily enough to keep him.
Harden wants out and tried to force his way to Brooklyn but miscalculated on one front: He still has two seasons left on his existing contract (and one option year after that). This wasn’t Anthony Davis with one year left on his contract and New Orleans feeling the pressure to get something done (although the Pelicans did very well in that trade because of the pressure on the Lakers as well). Houston has two years and can be patient. It doesn’t change how Harden feels right now.
The Rockets’ goal is to win Harden over, to convince him the franchise can build a title contender around him, but if that doesn’t work to ask for a motherload in return for an ultimate trade down the line, reports Tim MacMahon of ESPN.
The Rockets are hopeful that winning will ease Harden’s itchiness for an exit while recognizing that the pressure to trade him will intensify if early returns indicate that the team is not capable of contending… The Rockets have made it clear that they’d require a king’s ransom — starting with a young franchise cornerstone and a massive picks package, per sources — in any potential deal for Harden.
While nobody is sure what the Rockets have in John Wall — he hasn’t been on an NBA court in two years and had another knee surgery then a torn Achilles in that time — it’s tough to picture the Rockets as contenders even if Wall returns to vintage form. They will be a good team but likely in the middle of the pack in a deep and unforgiving Western Conference. That likely is not enough to appease Harden.
The Rockets do not feel pressure to trade Harden immediately. Right now, no team is putting that kind of package Houston wants on the table for Harden, so there is no decision to make. It can wait the market out and try to win in the short term.
The drama around the Rockets and a Harden trade will be a cloud over the heads of the franchise all season, following them wherever they go. But that cloud hasn’t started to rain yet; there is no pressure on Houston to act. Yet.