If James Harden had not decided that he'd like to be traded, if he had not informed the Houston Rockets of this, if the word of the trade request had not gotten out, then I could go on and on about how he fits with Christian Wood. I could point out that, in his first eight seasons in Houston, and even in his three in Oklahoma City before that, Harden never played with a big man quite like Wood, who can roll like Clint Capela, shoot like P.J. Tucker and score off the bounce. I could quote Houston coach Stephen Silas gushing about the possibilities on Monday.
"It's hard to guard those two guys individually, and then you put them together and they can really make special things happen," Silas said. "If they switch, now James is going against a bigger five man and that's part of his greatness is his isolation game. Christian Wood rolling into the rim against a smaller guy -- as you saw in the last game, San Antonio, he was just catching it and finishing over people. Those two guys in two-man game are very potent and are going to be good for our group, but what they both do is they're both unselfish players and they create space for everybody else on the floor."
If Harden had not decided that he'd like to be traded, if he had not informed the Rockets of this, if the word of the trade request had not gotten out, I could show you what Silas was talking about:
I could show you how much fun John Wall is having now that he's back on the court, blowing by people again, making the most of Houston's spacing:
I could tell you that Silas has put more movement into the offense and diversified their approach to defense, that DeMarcus Cousins looks more spry than he has in years, that Eric Gordon appears to be back to his normal self.
Under the circumstances, though, none of this feels particularly relevant, and it's not clear if there is anything that the Rockets can do to change Harden's mind.
Taking the temperature
Rockets believer: I have to admit I'm confused. If Harden's trade request was primarily motivated by a desire to win, can't he see that this roster gives him a chance to do just that? What happens if the Rockets start the season by stringing some wins together? They're going to dominate the Thunder on opening night, and I can think of no better way to show Harden what's possible here than beating the Nuggets and the Blazers after Christmas.
Rockets skeptic: You can hope, I guess, but you're setting yourself up for disappointment. Harden has said nothing of substance about this whole thing, but showing up late to training camp spoke volumes. Why on Earth would a few early-season wins would change his mind?
Rockets believer: Silas has all of the right ideas, and he's been given a much more well-rounded roster than the one Mike D'Antoni was working with. Wood would have been my No. 1 target if I were the front office, and I still can't believe that the Rockets actually got him. Wall is playing so much better than I expected after all this time off, and Cousins is playing better than he has since he tore his Achilles with the Pelicans almost three years ago. I dig this team, and I'm hoping Harden will give it a chance.
Rockets skeptic: I get why the idea of Wood is exciting, but the reality is that he bounced around the league and didn't get a real role until last year for good reasons. He's going to do some amazing things, and he's also going to drive the Rockets crazy. Even in the unlikely event that Wall and Cousins stay healthy, I'm not sure this is even a mediocre defensive team anymore. If Harden's trade request was primarily motivated by a desire to win, then there's no way he'll rescind it.
And honestly, I'm not even sure that this is about the roster. I don't think Harden is jumping for joy about this supporting cast, but it seems like the issue is a lack of trust between him and the organization now that Daryl Morey and D'Antoni are out of the picture.
Rockets believer: Strong disagree about the defense. You're probably just thinking about the loss of Robert Covington, and that's not the whole story. Wood can block some shots and Cousins will come in handy against the big guys who gave the Rockets trouble last season, but the reason I'm optimistic is they've added some versatile wings. If you're not familiar with Sterling Brown, David Nwaba and Jae'Sean Tate, you will be soon.
Anyway, let's say you're right that there is no convincing Harden. We both know every Rockets fan has already pictured Ben Simmons in this system, surrounded by shooters, unleashed like never before. You can get behind that kind of team, right?
Rockets skeptic: Morey says Simmons isn't going anywhere. The Rockets reportedly aren't interested in what the Brooklyn Nets have to offer. Harden can't opt out until the summer of 2022, so there will be teams willing to trade for him without the assurance that he wants to be there long-term. I wouldn't assume anything about what the Rockets will get back when a deal is inevitably completed. You should be prepared for the possibility that it is underwhelming.
But I'll humor you. Simmons is a terrible fit next to Wall, and it drives me nuts that everyone acts like he is going to turn into Giannis Antetokounmpo the moment that he's not on a team with Joel Embiid. He doesn't have the same type of attacking mentality, he doesn't draw a ton of fouls and he has obviously been far less willing to expand his game. The Rockets would be a fun League Pass team, but nothing more.
Rockets believer: I'm not going to let you get away with that Simmons slander. Who said he had to be exactly like Giannis? Simmons is worlds better as a passer, and he's better when it comes to defending quick guards. He's only 24, so there is plenty of time for him to improve as a scorer. He's not the back-to-back MVP, but players this good and this young are virtually never available on the trade market. He and Wall would kill teams in transition, and Wall's presence should not affect how the Rockets approach potential Harden deals anyway.
I'm not letting you get away with bringing up Morey's quote, either. He said he wasn't going to trade Chris Paul, and he said he was leaving the Rockets to spend time with his family. Come on! I don't buy for a second that Simmons is off-limits, so if they don't get him, then it means they've found a trade package of equal or greater value. That's cool with me.
Eye on: Jae'Sean Tate
Tate is a 24-year-old wing who played power forward in college and can still screen like a big and defend taller players. He spent the past couple of years playing in Australia and Belgium.
With the Sydney Kings of the NBL last season, Tate made better than 40 percent of his 3s, an extremely encouraging number even though he only attempted two per game. He'll be able to slash in this system, but the shooting will need to translate if he's going to earn a spot in the rotation. Silas raved about him during training camp.