In three weeks, when the NBA season tips off, James Harden will be wearing the jersey of…
The Houston Rockets. Probably. There is still plenty of trade buzz around Harden, including from Golden State (more on that later), but his attempt to pull an Anthony Davis and force his way to a specific team — in this case, Brooklyn, to play with Kevin Durant — appears to have fallen short. (In part because Davis was coming up fast on a player option and could leave anyway, pressuring the Pelicans, where Harden still has a couple of years on his contract so Houston could be patient.)
While the buzz around the league is the Harden trade talk is more player-driven than team-driven, Durant denied talking to Harden about joining him in Brooklyn. (Hat tip to ESPN’s Cassidy Hubbarth.)
“They’re making these stories up… I don’t know where that came from. James is a friend of mine, but I let the front office handle all of that stuff. I was just so focused on working out. I heard all the noise and I heard that James potentially wanted to come to the Nets. But anybody can make up stories, anybody can write a story and it gets traction.”
Decide for yourself if you think Harden and Durant spoke about teaming up in Brooklyn or not. There’s a lot of smoke, but Durant denies there is any fire. Either way, the sides are nowhere near a deal.
At least, Golden State made a call about Harden, Shams Charania of The Athletic said on the Complex Load Management podcast.
“I think you had several teams inquire. The Warriors, at one point, made a call for James Harden… I heard that one a little bit before the injury to Klay… But at the end of the day, if you don’t have the requisite pieces, it’s a moot point. Houston has the leverage. He’s under contract for two more years.”
Warriors guard Klay Thompson tore his Achilles in a pre-training camp workout and is out for the season, which changed the Warriors’ perspective on the season.
This is what good front offices do: Make the call, talk, assess the situation, and see if there’s a fit. It’s very difficult to imagine how a Harden/Stephen Curry backcourt would work, and the Warriors are not loaded with the kinds of young players the Rockets want back in a trade. A Warriors trade package for Harden would be something like Andrew Wiggins, Kevon Looney, Eric Paschall, three first-round picks, and two pick swaps. That’s a steep price that may not be enough, but it’s still worth the call just to get a feel for things.
On that same podcast, Charania said the trade demand for Russell Westbrook remains limited but added the Cleveland Cavaliers did place a call.
They talked to Cleveland, I’m told… I’m told the Rockets wanted multiple other assets [for Westbrook]. Whether it’s draft compensation. Young players. When you set the price that high, even for Russell Westbrook, if it’s not met the Rockets are fine going into this season and playing it out.
They may have to be. In a more normal year, there might be an owner of a struggling mid- or small-market team that would say, “get Westbrook, he will bring fans to the building,” but this season there will be no or limited fans in the building everywhere. In that case, part of the motivation for taking on three-years, $133 million, is gone.