Houston has a problem, James Harden. It’s no secret that the superstar guard wants out of Houston and has been doing everything in his power to force an exit. Harden’s ever-growing list of favoured destinations began with Brooklyn and Philadelphia before expanding to include Milwaukee, Miami and most recently Boston and Portland (per The Athletic); although Houston has no obligation to trade with any of them.
With two years left on his contract, teams won’t be overly concerned at the prospect of losing him to free agency in 2023 at age 33, and any move would provide, at a minimum, a two-year window of title contention for his recipients. There’s likely not a single team that wouldn’t like James Harden on their roster, but which teams can feasibly pursue the eight-time All-Star?
We’d love him, but we can’t afford.
Tradeable pieces: Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, their own future 1st rounders
The Nets should have the most confidence in acquiring a happy Harden who may re-sign long term, with Brooklyn being his first, named preference. They would have to give up all of their depth and almost every pick which could destroy their future (akin to the fallout of their 2013 trade with the Celtics). However, a line-up featuring Irving, Harden and Durant would almost certainly make them immediate title favourites.
Portland Trail Blazers
Tradeable pieces: CJ McCollum, Zach Collins, Anfernee Simons, their own future 1st rounders
Portland have remained ‘decent’ for too long and their start to the season points to another year of mediocrity in a stacked Western Conference. Moving for Harden would inject the roster with ambition and improve their already impressive backcourt to a potentially all-time guard partnership with Damian Lillard. And whilst the Blazers don’t have the elite young talent required to gain Houston’s attention, they could include CJ McCollum and future picks to make things interesting at the very least. Ultimately, Portland’s hypothetical offer isn’t at the standard of other teams’, but it could stand a chance if offers are surprisingly sparse heading towards the deadline.
We have the assets, but we aren’t giving them up.
Tradeable pieces: Jaylen Brown, Kemba Walker, lots of youth, their own future 1st rounders
Combining Harden with Tatum would create one of the league’s best one-two punches and give Boston a real shot in the next couple of years. However, the Celtics’ front office is more than likely looking towards dominating the next decade with an ever-improving crop of young players. Jaylen Brown’s hot start to the season may have bumped his value out of trade talks, and the recent free agent losses of Hayward and Irving may have scared GM Danny Ainge out of breaking up the future for a star who could jump ship at any time.
New Orleans Pelicans
Tradeable pieces: A gazillion draft picks, intriguing-but-not-amazing youth
After the talent displayed so far by Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram, it’s likely both would be off the table in a trade for Harden, who would accelerate the Pelicans’ timeline for contending to the here and now. The Anthony Davis pick haul leaves them equipped to move for an elite player, but with both their stars and depth likely to peak in five-or-more years time, New Orleans will be in no rush to press fast-forward and risk screwing up one of the most promising futures in the NBA.
This makes too much sense…
Tradeable pieces: Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid
The 76ers have been the much-discussed suitor for Harden, with a roster featuring two ill-matched All-Stars and ex-Houston GM Daryl Morey now running the show. The Sixers have had one of the best starts to the season, albeit against easy opposition, but may be tempted to offer up Simmons for Harden to provide Embiid with more space and improve the team’s half-court offense. Simmons may be the best player available to Houston, out of all proposed trades, but the Rockets may still insist on picks or other pieces to make it work.
Tradeable pieces: Anyone but Bam and Butler, their own future 1st rounders apart from 2021 and 2023
After losing out on Giannis Antetokoumpo, the Heat are equipped to make a big deal with the youth of Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson, future picks and tradeable salary all in their arsenal. Pat Riley has never been shy of taking risks and would surely be tempted by the prospect of a line-up featuring James Harden, Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, operating under the genius of Eric Spoelstra. The question for Miami, like many teams, is how much of their future would they mortgage for an immediate title run?
We’ve started badly, we want to shake things up.
Tradeable pieces: OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, their own future 1st round picks
The Raptors have been terrible to start the season, playing abysmal offense and lacklustre defense, atypical of their reputation. GM Masai Ujiri is no stranger to making superstar trades with short-term upside and their recent success off the back of Kawhi Leonard may tempt them into another big move in the hope of improving their fortunes.
Tradeable pieces: Michael Porter Jr, Will Barton, RJ Hampton, their own future 1st round picks apart from 2023 (unless 1-14)
It would be a drastic move for the Nuggets to disband their core that’s been on an upward trajectory over the past few years, peaking at the Western Conference Finals last season. However, they could sacrifice pieces of their future while retaining Jokic and Murray in order to add Harden to the mix. This may give them a real shot of bringing a Championship back to Denver while maximising on the teams’ current roster talent. A healthy Porter Jr would certainly appeal to the Rockets, but it would take more than him alone to seal a deal for the Beard.
Sure, what the hell.
Tradeable pieces: D’Angelo Russell, Anthony Edwards, their own future 1st rounders apart from 2021 (unless 1-3)
Things are not working in Minnesota and it could only be a matter of time until Karl Anthony Towns wants out. Whilst it’s unlikely Harden would want to re-sign there, the Wolves could be enticed by a Harden-KAT combination through the next two seasons, which would considerably boost their playoff hopes and potentially appease the big man. Although, it would likely require waving goodbye to close friend D’Angelo Russell.
Tradeable pieces: Literally everyone and everything
When Dwayne Bacon is your biggest offseason acquisition, you know have a problem. After 10 years of mediocrity, the Magic remain one of the most uninspiring teams in the league, with no star players and their best youth plagued by injuries (in Fultz and Isaac). The Magic could offer Houston any of their players in order to get some excitement back into the franchise. Yes, they would have to give up a lot of picks too, but Harden would keep them out of the lottery and the Magic hardly have the best draft record of recent years.