James Harden‘s leverage in the trade market is that he can be a free agent after two seasons and walk if he’s sent somewhere he doesn’t want to be.
James Harden’s problem is that two years is a long time by NBA standards, and some teams might be willing to take him on to be a contender in that time, even if he bolts in the summer of 2022.
With no trade close with Harden’s preferred teams — Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Miami, and Milwaukee — Houston has started to have more serious talks with other teams, reports Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.
Several playoff-caliber teams in the Eastern and Western conferences have told ESPN that they’re finding increased comfort in committing high-level trade assets in talks to acquire Harden. The Rockets have ongoing discussions on several fronts and have been communicating with Harden about those scenarios, sources said.
Two big questions here. First, what do these “playoff-caliber teams” need to send back to Houston? The Rockets have been demanding a franchise cornerstone player plus three future first-round picks as a baseline (likely with other players to make the salaries work). Teams getting Harden for a two-year rental will not pay as much as a team that has gotten nod-and-a-wink assurances from Harden’s camp he would re-sign there in two years. If these new bidders are offering less, has Houston started to lower some fairly unreasonable standards for their return in a deal?
Second, who leaked the info to Wojnarowski and Shelburne? I don’t know; what I do know is both are detailed and scrupulous reporters who were certainly told this by people in positions to know. However, every leak on some level is about spin, either controlling the narrative or putting more pressure on another team to get a deal done. Somebody gains on every trade rumor leak, so who benefits here?
Which brings us to the second part of the ESPN report (you can connect the dots with the last paragraph), Philadelphia is reportedly willing to put Ben Simmons in some Harden trade scenarios.
While the Sixers have signaled a willingness to include All-Star guard Ben Simmons in trade packages for Harden, those talks have come nowhere close to a deal, sources said. The Nets are limited by the Rockets’ interest in their personnel, and likely would need a third team to emerge in talks, sources said. So far, the Rockets’ steep asking price of young players and pick hasn’t moved any of their discussions into an advanced stage.
Philadelphia president Daryl Morey quickly shot this idea down.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) December 18, 2020
In reality, if things don’t come together in Philadelphia the first half of this season, the 76ers might consider throwing Simmons in a trade (with players to make the salaries match such as Tony Bradley, Shake Milton, and/or Matisse Thybulle). The catch for Houston would be this deal would have zero first-round picks (or maybe one). Most of the buzz around the league has been Philadelphia — and, more importantly, Philadelphia ownership — wants to see what the Simmons and Joel Embiid pairing looks like with more shooting around them (Seth Curry, Danny Green) and a new coach in Doc Rivers.
There is a lot of chatter about a Harden traded, but how much heat is there really around a trade? Houston and Harden may need to ride this out a while longer.