With Daryl Morey leaving for the 76ers and Mike D’Antoni joining the Nets coaching staff, this iteration of the Rockets is all but over. Perhaps they run it back another year, underneath a new coach, but taking into account recent rumors, it seems very possible that the Rockets blow it up. In that case, their top priority becomes simple: trade for good picks and young players. That priority also stems from the fact that the Rockets don’t have many picks for the future.
If the Rockets blow it up, their most valuable asset for trade is James Harden. The Rockets superstar has made a name for himself as an amazing iso scorer, and his scoring ability would be welcome for any team. The Rockets would surely try to get Harden to a winning environment; here are 5 destinations that would allow Harden to go to a contender, and for the Rockets to gain assets.
5. Brooklyn Nets
Brooklyn Nets Receive: James Harden
Houston Rockets Receive: Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie, Jarrett Allen, Taurean Prince, 2020 No. 19 Overall Pick
This trade would net the Rockets a great core of young players: Dinwiddie and LeVert are scorers, while Allen is a great defensive big. Taurean Prince would be a good defensive option on the wing, while the pick would allow the Rockets to pick a player they can develop for the future. While this year’s draft isn’t high on upscale talent, there are a lot of players who can play their role, defend and shoot the ball.
For the Nets, this would be the completion of their superteam. Harden would be reunited with his former teammate in Kevin Durant while having a real chance to compete for a championship. Harden wouldn’t have the insane usage rate he had in Houston, which would allow him to be fresh for the playoffs. Harden would provide playmaking and scoring for the Nets. If Harden goes to the Nets, then they instantly become the favorites for the NBA championship.
4. Toronto Raptors
Toronto Raptors Receive: James Harden
Houston Rockets Receive: Pascal Siakam, Norman Powell, Terence Davis, Patrick McCaw, and two future first-round picks
The Raptors’ front office leader has never been one to scoff at high-risk trades. Masai Ujiri masterminded Kawhi Leonard’s trade to Toronto, and his trade savvy had been rewarded with a championship. Leonard brought uncertainty to the Raptors due to his known desire to play in Los Angeles; having a real superstar brought them a championship in return. Ujiri could repeat history here by trading his championship star for a proven superstar in James Harden.
This Raptors package would trade an All-NBA player in Siakam for a proven superstar in Harden. The Raptors would package Terence Davis, Norman Powell and McCaw as younger players in the trade. Davis, in particular, is a candidate for trade due to his legal issues in New York.
The Raptors picks would likely be when their contention window is over, making them highly valuable in the future. The Raptors could add a superstar to their roster while re-signing VanVleet and Ibaka, making them contenders once again. It’s a risk but if it means getting back to the Finals, then the Raptors should do it.
3. Denver Nuggets
Denver Nuggets Receive: James Harden
Houston Rockets Receive: Gary Harris, Will Barton, Michael Porter Jr., Bol Bol, a future first-round pick, and a future second-round pick
The Denver Nuggets need their third star. Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic have broken out this season, defeating the vaunted Clippers in a 7 game series. While they can be happy with where they got to, they still aren’t a championship-caliber team. They have a lot of young players that could be good; the question is whether it is prudent to trade them for a win-now star. Trading for a win-now player worked out for the Lakers with Anthony Davis; the Nuggets may have to do a similar move. The Nuggets would be in the conversation for a James Harden trade if he were to become available.
This trade shows the Nuggets giving up a hypothetical package of young players and picks. Gary Harris is a great perimeter defender and spark plug scorer; Will Barton is also a scorer and a great floor spacer. The key in this draft would be the acquisition of Michael Porter Jr. and Bol Bol. Those two are the Nuggets’ most intriguing prospects and are must-have for the Rockets. Bol Bol is a giant who has great shooting ability, while Michael Porter Jr. resembles oversized wings like Kevin Durant. This trade would be one of the best trades that the Rockets could accept in terms of potential.
2. Miami Heat
Miami Heat Receive: James Harden
Houston Rockets Receive: Andre Iguodala, Kelly Olynyk (Player Option), Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson, Kendrick Nunn
The Miami Heat can send the Houston Rockets players for the future while matching Hardens’ salary with veteran contracts. The young trio of Herro, Robinson, and Nunn would be put into an environment where they can develop and get more touches, without the ball being dominated by a superstar. We’ve seen Tyler Herro’s development throughout the season: imagine what it’d be like if he was on a team where he could be the primary scoring option. Nunn would also benefit from more touches for his development: he had a promising rookie campaign.
If Harden were to pair up with Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler, then they would be one of the favorites to come out of the East. Harden would finally have a decent roster with two other stars, while the Heat would hopefully ride him to a championship. Bam Adebayo could be that mobile center that Harden loves playing with, while Jimmy Butler could carry the scoring on Harden’s off nights. Harden and Miami would be a great fit not only culturally; it would also be a match due to both parties craving a championship.
1. Philadelphia 76ers
Philadelphia 76ers Receive: James Harden
Houston Rockets Receive: Ben Simmons, Matisse Thybulle, and two future first-round picks
It is no secret that Daryl Morey likes two things: 3PT shots and James Harden. The collateral damage of Morey’s hiring by the 76ers could be the departure of Ben Simmons in favor of a guard who can space the floor and create like James Harden. While giving up a great player in Simmons would hurt, Harden’s game fits better with Embiid. There’s also the question of Simmons’ viability in the playoffs without a jumper; he was injured before this year’s run, but in 2019, Simmons didn’t have a good showing.
The James Harden and Joel Embiid pick and rolls would be deadly. Harden’s ability to draw defenders could also help unlock Tobias Harris and Al Horford. A lot of the time, Horford and Harris should be set up by a playmaker. The playmaker must also be a scoring threat to stop the double teams. Harden makes the game easier for Harris and Horford by being a huge presence on offense; that will allow Harris to showcase his one on one game, while Horford won’t be asked to space the floor as much and be able to showcase his strengths at the 4. Harden to Philadelphia is always going to be a real possibility with Morey being present; that move would shake things up, but that shake-up could very well be positive.