No deals have seemed close. Harden can keep adding teams to his list. But with nearly two full seasons left before he can hit free agency, he has limited leverage to pick his destination. His playing style and approach make him a tough fit on many teams. His massive salary complicates a trade. Houston has rightly kept its asking price high.
The big question: How would Harden handle the Rockets keeping him into the season? Again, it has been pretty quiet.
Sure, Harden flaunted the NBA’s coronavirus protocols, arrived late to training camp and got into it with teammates. But he wasn’t a great leader even in better times. This is all pretty tame relative to the recent precedent of Jimmy Butler.
Front office executives around the NBA say Houston is growing more confident that Harden will be content to stick around at least through the rest of the season. Sources say Harden still prefers to be dealt
1. Opposing front offices don’t necessarily have the best read into Houston’s thinking.
2. Even if the Rockets are gaining confidence Harden will accept staying in Houston, that confidence isn’t necessarily justified.
Still, this through-the-grapevine assessment means something.
On the other hand, Houston is just 3-5. Losing exacerbates most problems.
At minimum, Harden is giving the Rockets space to find a trade without applying extra pressure. He’s playing well and talking positively about Houston’s direction moving forward. If you didn’t know he requested a trade, you wouldn’t guess just from watching and listening to him this season.
But as long as he wants to be traded, his mood could always change on a dime. Whatever the Rockets’ current confidence level in keeping him, that threat lurks beneath the surface.