Although James Harden has finally arrived in Houston to report for training camp after attending parties in Atlanta and Las Vegas, the relationship between the Rockets franchise star and the organization continues to deteriorate. While videos of Harden popping up at parties for rapper Lil Baby circulated on social media, the Rockets started training camp without their best player, and new Houston head coach Stephen Silas called it a "setback" that he wasn't with the team.
For the last month, rumors have been surfacing that Harden wanted out of Houston, and now they seem to be coming up again. Previous reports indicated that Harden had a list of contenders that he would accept a trade to, including the Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets, and now the Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat, per The Athletic's Shams Charania. Fast forward to Christmas Eve and Harden has now, according to Sam Amick of The Athletic, added the Portland Trail Blazers and Boston Celtics to the list of teams he would prefer to be traded to.
When the initial reports that Harden was looking to be traded surfaced a while back, the Sixers and the Brooklyn Nets were the two teams that were linked to the superstar, though nothing gained traction with either franchise. No talks have materialized with the Sixers yet, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, as new Philadelphia president -- and former Rockets general manager -- Daryl Morey has been adamant about keeping Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons together for the time being. Sixers head coach Doc Rivers also denied the rumors during training camp, saying "none of those trade rumors are coming from us."
Despite this though, league sources still believe that the Sixers are the most likely landing spot for Harden, according to The New York Times' Marc Stein, who points to the familiarity between the two front offices as a major factor for why a deal could ultimately get done.
As far as the Nets go, the Rockets reportedly wouldn't even consider a deal with the franchise unless it included either Kevin Durant or Kyrie Irving, per Charania. The Bucks are a surprising addition to the list, considering the interesting history between Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo where both stars have taken playful jabs at each other. It would be difficult for Milwaukee to pull off a trade, considering the Bucks traded three future first-round picks and a couple players to get Jrue Holiday, but if mutual interest is there, Milwaukee may be able to figure something out.
With the Heat, who just signed franchise cornerstone Bam Adebayo to a five-year, $163 million extension, they have young enticing players in Tyler Herro and Kendrick Nunn who could be intriguing to Houston.
In order to even consider trading Harden, the Rockets are reportedly asking for a return that includes a young franchise cornerstone, several first-round picks and/or up-and-coming players on rookie contracts.
There are reportedly some reservations about trading for Harden, as teams would want to know that the perennial All-Star would stick around long term, and not opt out of his contract after the 2021-22 season.
For the time being, no trade seems to be imminent for Harden, and the Rockets are in no rush to deal their franchise centerpiece without the right price. After trading Russell Westbrook for John Wall, and signing young center Christian Wood to a contract during the offseason, the Rockets are clearly sending the message that they aren't interested in going into a full rebuild. The asking price for Westbrook also indicates that Houston wants to be competitive and not build through the draft.
As the roster stands now, Houston is still very much a team that could secure a playoff spot, but as far as winning a championship goes, that window seems to be closing. We'll see if Harden plays out this season in Houston, or if the Rockets will grant their star player his request of trying to chase a ring somewhere else.