Nearly a month has passed since the rumor mill began churning in earnest with James Harden’s NBA future in the middle of the rumblings. Eventually, Russell Westbrook was dealt from Houston to Washington in a swap for John Wall but, on the eve of the 2020-21 season, Harden remains employed by the Houston Rockets. However, Harden wasn’t present at the start of Rockets training camp and new head coach Stephen Silas admitted it is a “setback” for the team not to have its superstar player in the mix as the season approaches.
While Silas and Harden’s teammates are left to answer about Harden’s unknown whereabouts, some of the attention is shifting back to the trade market. Throughout the process, it has been widely reported that Harden prefers to head to the Brooklyn Nets but, given his stature, the Rockets are naturally looking for an impressive package and, if they don’t love what the Nets can offer, a standoff could be coming. On Monday, Sam Amick of The Athletic offered interesting insight into the process, noting the Rockets “were surprised by (Harden’s absence) just like everyone else” and shedding light on Houston’s potential asking price.
Amick reports that Houston’s demands “remain unchanged” at this juncture, indicating that the Rockets are looking for “an All-Star/All-NBA level player” as a part of the package. From there, the Rockets are seeking even “a treasure trove of other assets” to come alongside that centerpiece, and not in place of that star. It is worth noting, however, that Amick reports the trade market “wasn’t responding” to Houston’s asking price as of Monday afternoon, but things can certainly change.
On one hand, Houston’s leverage has taken a beating in the last few weeks, with Harden seemingly wanting to dictate his destination and all of the drama surrounding his failure to report to training camp. On the other, superstars have unprecedented power in the modern NBA and, well, it was always likely that Harden would wield that power if he wanted out of Houston in favor of other opportunities.
As far as teams that can present the kind of offer to meet the asking price reported by Amick, it is tough sledding to check all of the boxes. The Nets do have strong present-day talent in Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie and Jarrett Allen, but none of those players reach the level of definitive All-Star status. Brooklyn could offer Kyrie Irving, but Irving and Kevin Durant planned to play in Brooklyn together and that may not be amenable to all parties. A team like Philadelphia, led by former Rockets exec Daryl Morey, could center an offer around Ben Simmons, but they also may want to see what the team looks like after some interesting offseason changes.
Harden’s market may be tepid if the Rockets are asking for the sun, moon and stars but, in the same breath, Houston should be trying to get a ton for Harden. He is, of course, one of the best players in the NBA and, even while making a lofty salary, he’s worth every penny if dialed in and focused. Still, it will be interesting to see who blinks first and, the longer his absence from Houston goes, the louder the murmurs will get about the next step.