James Harden's Reported Trade Interest Brings Houston to a Crossroads

Author:
Publish date:

James Harden is intrigued by the possibility of reuniting with Kevin Durant in Brooklyn, a league source familiar with Harden’s thinking told SI. While there have been no substantive discussions between the Nets and Rockets about a trade, Houston is evaluating its options moving forward, per sources.

ESPN first reported Harden’s interest in playing for the Nets.

Harden, 31, played three seasons with Durant in Oklahoma City. Since being traded to Houston in 2012, Harden has become one of the NBA’s most dominant offensive players, being named MVP in 2018. Harden has won the NBA’s scoring title in each of the last three seasons, averaging 34.3 points per game last season.

James Harden

The Rockets, though, could be at a crossroads. Days after Houston’s second-round playoff exit, head coach Mike D’Antoni announced he was leaving. Last month, general manager Daryl Morey resigned. The Rockets replaced D’Antoni with Stephen Silas, a widely respected young coach, and Rafael Stone, a longtime member of the organization. They've publicly signaled a commitment to keeping the core of the roster intact.

However, league-wide there is a strong belief that Houston has plateaued.

Earlier this month, The Athletic reported that Russell Westbrook, acquired from Oklahoma City last offseason, wanted a trade.

The Nets have engaged multiple teams in trade talks in recent weeks, team and league sources told SI. With Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving expected to return when the season opens next month, Brooklyn will be a championship contender, and the team has looked to surround its two stars with a strong supporting cast. The Nets are among the teams looking at Jrue Holiday, the Pelicans guard who is being shopped by New Orleans.

Brooklyn has the ability to make Houston a strong offer. On Saturday, SI’s Clippers reporter Farbod Esnaashari reported that the Nets had engaged the Rockets, citing Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert, Taurean Prince, and Jarrett Allen as potential trade chips. Dinwiddie and LeVert, rising young guards, would be especially appealing, while Allen is a rim protecting center.

Harden is owed $131.5 million over the next three seasons.

Among Houston’s considerations are what to do with Westbrook? The All-Star guard is owed $132 million over the next three seasons. The market for Westbrook, 32, has been minimal, with several rival executives saying Westbrook’s contract and the potential for his game to deteriorate (Westbrook’s success is largely based on his athleticism; he shot 25.8% from three last season) will make it difficult for the Rockets to find a trade partner. Houston traded Chris Paul and multiple first-round picks for Westbrook in 2019.

On the surface, Harden’s interest in teaming up with Durant and Kyrie Irving seems peculiar. But Harden and Durant maintained a strong relationship after Harden was traded from Oklahoma City. And while Harden has emerged as an alpha in Houston, people close to Harden recall that Harden didn’t get traded because of a desire for a bigger role, but because the Thunder wouldn’t meet his contract demands. Harden, in fact, relished his role alongside Durant and Westbrook in OKC.

The NBA trade window opens Monday afternoon.