Who are those other contenders?
Along with the Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets, Houston Rockets star James Harden now also has the Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat among his preferred trade destinations, sources with knowledge have told The Athletic.
The big question about Harden and the Bucks: How would Giannis Antetokounmpo – whom Milwaukee is trying to convince to sign a super-max extension – feel about it? Harden and Antetokounmpo have feuded. But maybe desperate times call for desperate measures. Milwaukee could use more shot creation.
But there are significant challenges in assembling a trade for either team.
Both the Bucks and Heat are hard-capped, and Milwaukee is quite close to the limit. Harden’s $41,254,920 salary would not fit easily.
The Bucks are completely out of tradeable future first-round picks after the Jrue Holiday deal. How desirable would veterans Khris Middleton or Holiday (once he can be aggregated in a trade) be to a Houston team taking a step back sans Harden? Milwaukee is short on promising young talent besides Donte DiVincenzo.
The Heat also can’t guarantee a future first-rounder in a trade, though they could remove the lottery protections on the 2023 first-rounder they owe the Thunder, which would open 2025 and 2027 first-rounders for trade. However, that increases the cost of trading for Harden without increasing the Rockets’ return.
Miami reportedly treated Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro as untradeable, and that was before Adebayo’s breakout season and Herro’s breakout bubble. Jimmy Butler already looks like a mainstay. Maybe a player of Harden’s caliber would make Herro available.
At least the Heat have several effectively expiring contracts that could be useful: Andre Iguodala, Kelly Olynyk and Meyers Leonard (once he can be traded Feb. 6). Goran Dragic (also eligible to be traded Feb. 6) could also be included.
With two seasons left on his contract before he can opt out, Harden has limited leverage to pick his trade destination. Still, the more confident a team is Harden would re-sign in 2022, the more that team should offer Houston. That’s why Harden’s list matters.