The Houston Rockets continued their busy offseason on Wednesday with a blockbuster trade that sent Russell Westbrook to the Washington Wizards in exchange for John Wall and a future first-round pick. There had been speculation for weeks that Westbrook might be on the move, and now it has finally happened.
But what about the Rockets' other star? James Harden isn't exactly thrilled about the current state of the team, and there's been no shortage of trade rumors involving him either. In fact, as recently as last month he reportedly made it clear to the front office that he wanted to be traded to the Brooklyn Nets. It's easy to wonder if the Westbrook trade will just be the first part of a two-step process to completely overhauling this roster.
It doesn't appear that will be the case, however. Not yet, at least.
The Rockets are expected to start the season with Harden, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, who also said that Harden preferred Wall over Westbrook:
Wojnarowski's full comments:
Now for both Houston and Washington, each is trying to please their franchise player -- James Harden and Bradley Beal. They exchanged point guards, both point guards wanted to go to the other team. There's a lot at stake for both Washington and Houston now as they move forward and try to keep Bradley Beal, try to keep James Harden long term.
He had a preference of John Wall over Westbrook, although in the last couple years, Harden has moved teammates in and out. Brought Chris Paul in, moved him out, same with Russell Westbrook now. Whether that's going to be enough to want to be there long term, Rockets aren't sure about that. They do have a cushion to work with; remember James Harden is under contract for two more years. So they're going to start the season with Harden and Wall, and they're hopeful that John Wall can get back to that All-Star form, a five-time All-Star, former No. 1 overall pick. And if they can get John Wall back playing at a high level, they're hopeful that that will help to make a case to James Harden.
As we've seen already this offseason, things can change quickly in the NBA. It wasn't even a week ago that the Wizards GM was saying there was no truth whatsoever to the idea that they were trying to trade Wall, and look what happened. So, of course, there's always the possibility that Harden does get moved before the season.
However, at this point the more likely scenario is that he starts the season with the Rockets, as Wojnarowski stated. The main reason being that it's almost impossible to find a fair trade for one of the best players in the league, and the Rockets have no incentive to trade him given that he's under contract for a few more seasons.
The Nets simply can't put together a good enough package of players and picks to entice the Rockets, while the 76ers, another team that's been involved in the rumors, is intent on keeping both Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Without either of those stars on the table, they're in the same boat as the Nets.
Unless there's some sort of drastic change in what teams are willing to offer, it makes sense for the Rockets to keep Harden for now and see what happens with some of the moves they made. They brought in Wall, which apparently Harden wanted, took a flyer on DeMarcus Cousins and signed Christian Wood. While there's obviously a lot of question marks surrounding Wall and Cousins due to their injury history, the ceiling is also pretty high because of their talent.
If things click, the Rockets could still be a team that can make noise in the Western Conference, and Harden might want to stay, after all. If not, they can still always trade him at the deadline or sometime next summer.