I get it, okay. Trades are always fun to speculate about, especially when it involves a superstar. And James Harden is a superstar. At least in the pure numbers sense of the term.
However, I was looking at the teams that at various times have been rumored to be interested in trading for The Beard, and I can’t find a one of them that would be better off with him on their roster.
Let’s start with Portland.
First of all, if I’m the Blazers I don’t ever give up Damian Lillard for Harden. Full stop. Lillard is simply the better player.
But let’s say Portland can figure out how to acquire Harden without giving up their own franchise star. Not only would it deplete the Blazers roster depth (goodbye CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic, for starters) trying to meet Houston’s considerable trade demands (nor should we forget the massive financial hit that Harden brings with him), but we’ve already seen The Beard come up short trying to coexist with all-world guards Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook these last few years. Any reason to believe Harden figures out how to be an effective second fiddle to Lillard if he were to go to Portland? Next.
Philly seems to come up a lot in Harden rumors, too. This one comes the closest to making sense, even though any trade would have to include the Sixers’ Ben Simmons in return for The Beard. If I’m Houston, I’d blow the ink dry on that one, because Simmons, who is still only 24, is actually the better piece to build around long-term if the Rockets finally plan to start over. As for the 76ers, combining Harden with Joel Embiid is enticing, but which of these guys do they look to when the chips are down? Both Harden and Embiid seem to fall into the category of terrific at padding stats when the seas are smooth, but likely to come up small in a tough spot. Philly is in that terrible NBA no-man’s-land, where they are good, but not good enough to get over the top. That’s the exact real estate Harden has occupied since he came into the league. Don’t do it, Sixers.
Brooklyn? After two games we were ready to hand the Nets the Eastern Conference title, and even with Spencer Dinwiddie out for the year following his ACL injury, Brooklyn boasts two superstars plus outstanding depth. It’s hard to imagine them being a better team by adding Harden’s ball-stopping offensive repertoire to the mix at the expense of every young and valuable supporting piece that is the backbone of any title contender (see Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, Joe Harris, just for starters). My guess is Steve Nash likes the looks of the hand he’s been dealt in Brooklyn, and would be loathe to bring Harden and his baggage to New York. Pass on him, Nets, you don’t need The Beard and his headaches.
Denver is already a winning team (and still on the rise) that boasts depth with an assortment of young stars (likely to only keep getting better over the foreseeable future). Why mess all that up for a scoring champ who has never improved team chemistry? Same holds true for Utah, and besides, could you really imagine James Harden in Salt Lake City?
And herein lies the challenge in trading for James Harden. His talents are unmistakeable when it comes to scoring average. But it’s hard to find a single instance where he’s made a teammate better while playing with them.
Moving Harden allows Houston the benefit of addition through subtraction. They shed salary, negative on-court and off-court baggage, and would likely pick up several useful pieces in return. The Rockets would be wise to take any of these deals, if they truly exist, which is exactly why we should expect Harden to remain in Houston this year. There he can earn his $40 million while leading the Rockets to one of the west’s final playoff seeds, before making an early exit from the playoffs.
Other thoughts around the NBA:
*Can somebody explain to me how the Knicks blew out the Bucks the other night? I know that young teams are prone to wide swings in performance, but only one night prior, in their home opener against the Sixers, the Knicks looked like a team likely to finish with single-digits wins this year. Then they go out and do that? I still have the Knickerbockers penciled in at 20-52 for the season, but (and yes, I know I’ve said this before, but not in a couple of years…) it feels like there finally is a little hope out there.
*Losing Spencer Dinwiddie is an enormous hit to the Nets title dreams. As good as Brooklyn looks right now, depending on the brittle Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant to both stay healthy this season is a dangerous game. That’s where all that depth, especially with guys that would start for most teams, like LeVert and Dinwiddie, is so important. If KD and Kyrie can play 60 games each and head into the playoffs at close to full strength, it’s hard to bet against Brooklyn as a legit title contender. But that’s a big “if,” and losing Dinwiddie just made the degree of difficulty go way up for rookie coach Steve Nash.
*The Lakers are actually better this year. Shit. But let me make one thing clear — LeBron could win another five rings and he still won’t crack the SportsAttic All-Time NBA Top Three (Michael, Kareem, Wilt), let alone ever be called the GOAT.
*There’s been a ton of noise over the Mavs blowing out the Clippers (with no Kawhi Leonard) the other night. Yeah, a 50-point lead at the half is pretty staggering, but as far as bearing meaning beyond a statistical marvel? None.
*It was a tough draw for the Warriors to start the year with Brooklyn followed by the Bucks, but the lack of competitiveness by a team only a year removed from a dynastic run was remarkable. Losing Klay Thompson again before a single game was played had to be a gut punch, but there’s still talent on the Golden State roster, isn’t there? Getting Draymond Green back should help, but man…James Harden, anyone?
*I wonder how good Phoenix can be this year? It’s an interesting roster, and if Chris Paul is ready to settle into the role of elder statesman/facilitator, and not insist on being “The Man,” the Suns could make some noise. Right now Paul is averaging 12 points and 10 assists, in just under 30 minutes a game. That seems about perfect, and the impact he should have on Deandre Ayton’s development could be his most meaningful contribution. Ayton appears to be a beast in the making. I’ve never been a Paul fan, but I’m intrigued by what’s going on out in the desert.
*So Russell Westbrook is in Washington now, right? Teamed up on the winless Wizards alongside Bradley Beal? Yeah, that’ll end well…