We can apparently stop treating James Harden‘s desire to leave the Rockets and join the Nets as theoretical.
Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle:
But Harden wants to move on from the Rockets, the Chronicle has been informed, and is trying to force his way via trade to Brooklyn, allowing The Beard to form the NBA’s next superteam and rejoin forces with former Oklahoma City teammate Kevin Durant.
Houston has reached DEFCON 2. This is the NBA’s latest and biggest star crisis.
We’ll see which side gives.
The Rockets were inclined to run it back with Harden and Russell Westbrook (who made his own trade request). Houston has some leverage with Harden locked up two more seasons.
But stars usually get their way in situations like this.
At least the Rockets should get a massive return if trading Harden. He’s a superstar in his prime and, as mentioned, under contract two more years before his player option.
Do the Nets have enough to get him? Brooklyn’s main trade assets:
No. 19 pick in 2020 NBA Draft
Four future first-round picks
Three first-round pick swaps
Going all in might bring up nightmares of the Nets trading many distant picks for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce – a deal that spectacularly backfired. But Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are better incumbent stars than Joe Johnson and Deron Williams. Harden (31) is younger and better than Garnett (37) and Pierce (35).
For Houston, the nightmare has already arrived.
The Rockets’ culture revolved and devolved around Harden. Though he lifted the team into the playoffs and contended for MVP annually, he also played a ball-dominant style with too little defensive intensity, turning off teammates forced to do his dirty work then stand around and watch him dribble.
That was more forgivable while the team was winning. But Houston has been sliding since its strong showing in the 2018 Western Conference finals.
Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta dodged the luxury tax at critical junctures of Houston’s championship contention, demanded an ill-advised trade for Westbrook and ran off general manager Daryl Morey. Morey made many savvy moves to bolster the roster around Harden while building a strong relationship with the superstar (and, to be fair, enabled some of Harden’s bad habits).
Now, the Rockets are old, expensive and devoid of long-term assets.
No wonder Harden wants out.
He’d have a far more talented supporting cast in Brooklyn. But would he, Durant and Irving find offensive balance? Would they play enough defense? That situation would be ripe for turmoil, too.
One crisis at a time, though. It’s Houston’s turn to face a big one.