The James Harden trade saga was put on the back burner when he finally reported to training camp, the season got underway, and COVID-19 concerns grew through the league. But now, following his comments after the Houston Rockets' loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night, trade discussions are heating up again.
Harden did not attend practice on Wednesday, and the team intends to sit him out until a deal is completed, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski. That would suggest the discussions are reaching the final stages, something that was backed up by a report from Sam Amick and Shams Charania of The Athletic, which indicated a deal could be done soon.
The Rockets have had discussions with multiple teams, including the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors, but are now "sifting through" offers from Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets who remain the favorites to acquire the disgruntled star.
The Nets have prepared a package to Houston for Harden featuring all of their four future first-round picks and three future pick swaps, multiple sources said. This would place significant pressure on the team to win immediately and the potential partnership between two former star teammates in Harden and Kevin Durant. For the Nets, there could be hesitation to mortgage future assets with this type of ferocity. Brooklyn does not owe any extra firsts or have any owed to it, so it has four firsts and three swaps available.
The Rockets have pursued a 76ers package centered on All-NBA star Ben Simmons, sources said. Simmons, a two-time All-Star, has continued to grow his game on the defensive end of the floor. As far as star talent, the Rockets would be able to acquire a player in Simmons whose talent level may not be available elsewhere. One player whom the Rockets and 76ers have discussed in potential packages is 2019 first-round pick Matisse Thybulle, with Houston having interest in the defensive-minded forward, sources said.
To this point, the Rockets remain steadfast in demanding a significant return for Harden, which includes a centerpiece player and multiple prospects and/or first round picks. The most obvious solution would be a deal with the 76ers centered around Ben Simmons, but it's still unclear if Philadelphia is willing to trade him. The Rockets are pursuing a trade package from Philadelphia that would be headlined by Simmons and Tyrese Maxey, according to Marc Stein of the New York Times. As for the Nets, unless they are willing to include Kyrie Irving, they don't seem to have a package that would meet the Rockets' demands -- especially after Spencer Dinwiddie went down with a torn ACL.
What we know about the deals being discussed:
- Nets: Willing to include all future first-round picks and pick swaps
- 76ers: Houston pursuing package involving Ben Simmons and Tyrese Maxey
The Rockets stated before the season that they were willing to get uncomfortable with Harden, and see how things went with John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Christian Wood giving the team a new look. But it's clear now that things have reached a breaking point. Not only from Harden's comments about how the situation "can't be fixed," but from his play on the court and the obvious strain everything is putting on the rest of the team.
New head coach Stephen Silas wouldn't publicly criticize Harden, who he said was "nothing but professional" in their interactions. Still, he acknowledged on Wednesday that "it's really just one of those kind of all-around messed-up situations that's hard to kind of quantify and kind of wrap your mind around in figuring out the best way to have the group move forward. That's my job, and it was a sleepless night last night trying to figure out what the best way to do that would be."
Silas also had concern for how the rest of the team would respond to Harden's comments. "That sort of thing, less how I felt about it but more how the group felt about it. That was my main concern because that's hard to hear. Especially when you don't believe it and you know it not to be true."
Over his last five games, Harden is putting up just 17.4 points on 37.8 percent from the field, numbers which are well below his usual standards. He doesn't appear to be in the best shape, has had some extremely lackadaisical moments on the court, and the team is 1-4 in those games.