And despite seemingly doing everything in his power to make life difficult for the Rockets to do just that -- not reporting for training camp, looking to blatantly disregard social distancing policies put in place to attend the birthday party of Lil Baby, just being a general pain in the behind -- given the nature of the NBA, no matter how spoiled he’s behaving he’s still likely to get his way at some point.
So far, Harden has reportedly made known of four destinations that he’d like to be traded to: Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Miami or Milwaukee, with the Nets, reportedly, being his preferred destination.
All four clubs figure to be contenders this season, so Harden’s desire to win seems apparent but where, exactly would he fit in best among these options? Here’s a quick ranking of each:
The 76ers would be a top-notch destination for both Harden and Philadelphia.
Harden would reunite with Daryl Morey, the man who first brought him to Houston and then signed him to the supermax deal he’s on right now, and the team that would be around him would be built to be far more offensively balanced than he’s had with the Rockets, something that will ease the load off him.
For the Sixers, trading for Harden would mean the team’s dreadful shooting would instantly see an upgrade, plus the club could finally end this Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons experiment.
Over the past couple of seasons it’s been quite apparent that the two stars don’t compliment each other well at all and Philly would, perhaps, be better off choosing one over the other. Should the Sixers look to make a deal for Harden, because of the massive $41.2 million he’s owed this season, Philadelphia would basically have to deal one of Embiid, Simmons or Tobias Harris -- with the more attractive choices for Houston being one of Embiid or Simmons.
The setup is already in place for an easy transaction, and the Sixers would hold a lot of promise with the addition of Harden.
From a pure basketball standpoint, this is the most terrifying proposition: The two MVPs over the last three seasons teaming up together.
From a purely competitive standpoint, this should be the destination Harden wants to go to the most. The team with the best record in basketball the last two seasons, with one of the most dominant two-way players on the planet leading the charge, relieving Harden of the pressure he’s faced over his career in Houston.
It sounds like a perfect fit right up until you consider what a trade package would look like.
In order to swap for Harden straight up the Bucks would have to trade either Khris Middleton or newcomer Jrue Holiday. It’s unlikely Milwaukee wants to do either, although, with that said, Harden would certainly be an upgrade over Middleton on the wing.
3) Miami Heat
Another strong, competitively-reasoned destination that comes with the big bonus of South Beach, the defending Eastern Conference champions look poised to dominate the East for years to come and the addition of Harden would just cement that.
Harden would theoretically give Miami what it was missing in the Finals last season, a go-to scorer, capable of getting a bucket whenever needed.
You can debate the aesthetics of Harden’s game all you like, but as the three-time defending scoring champion there’s no denying he knows how to score and there were times in the Finals when it looked like Miami could have used an individually great player to get them baskets as opposed to relying upon the team’s offensive system, where most of their scoring comes from.
Harden could be that guy.
Unfortunately for Miami, like with Milwaukee, in order to make this deal happen straight up, the Heat would have to give away too much in Jimmy Butler. Miami’s other valuable players like Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro will be making too little this season to factor into a trade to help match Harden’s gargantuan salary and a deal with the primary pieces coming back Houston’s way being Kelly Olynyk and Andre Iguodala wouldn’t fly, either.
You can never say never, but it’s hard to see how the Heat can get this deal done.
Harden’s preferred destination is probably the worst option he’s given himself.
Sure, a deal could be made between Brooklyn and Houston without the Nets needing to deal one of Kevin Durant or Kyrie Irving, but in order to do so a combination of Brooklyn’s young talent that will act as the team’s role players this season will need to be dealt.
This means, probably, a three-man grouping of Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie, Taurean Prince, Jarrett Allen and even veteran big man DeAndre Jordan.
That would be a sizeable amount of Brooklyn’s depth -- and a big part of the team’s competitive advantage -- stripped away just to add Harden to Durant and Irving.
But, for posterity’s sake, let’s say a deal does happen, is there enough ball to go around between that kind of triumvirate? Harden, of course, is notorious for basically pounding the air out of the ball, Irving also needs the ball in his hands so he can work his wicked handle and create off that, and then while Durant could probably be just as effective as a spot-up guy he’ll likely be considered the alpha of the group by many and, thus, will need the ball a good chunk of time, too.
This wouldn’t be like LeBron James joining the Miami Heat when he was the undisputed best player on the team. The Nets have different circumstances and there’s probably going to be a lot of egos to sort through right now and the addition of Harden might be too much for Brooklyn to handle.
LOL) Toronto Raptors
We know you were thinking about it, so to put it to rest here’s what a Harden trade scenario to the Raptors would look like:
If this was a straight two-team deal between Toronto and Houston the Raptors would have to give up one of Pascal Siakam or Kyle Lowry in a deal.
It would be intriguing to see how the Raptors’ coaching staff would integrate Harden into the team’s offence as he’s a player who loves isolation and Toronto’s offensive approach is very much against that, preferring to run a pace-and-space, ball-movement-heavy form of attack.
Harden’s own individual defensive effort can be lacking at times as well as he tries to preserve himself on offence, something that would also probably run the Raptors’ coaching staff -- and the players -- the wrong way.
So this deal is very, very, very unlikely to happen. But, never say never, and should this actually come to pass you have to wonder if that price would be worth it?