The Houston Rockets as a team have been under intense speculation ever since James Harden demanded a trade request. The front office has been engaged in multiple trade talks for Harden with a variety of teams in the league, but the one option that people don't talk about as much is this: What if James Harden ends up staying? Perhaps the trade request could be canceled, and Harden could focus on what he's been doing for the past few seasons: trying to get the Rockets a championship.
Some may ask how that is possible. Surely the relationship between Harden and the front office is fractured to the point of no return. The answer to that concern is simple: winning cures everything. If your team is winning, then everything's good in the basketball world. All that James Harden wants is the ability to win a championship: if there's a very good chance of that happening, then perhaps he won't mind playing in Houston. John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins could bounce back, and Christian Wood looks like the steal of free agency who claimed he could be a second option behind Harden. The Rockets have the full potential to be a good team.
The Houston Rockets have assets such as Eric Gordon, P. J. Tucker, and Danuel House: all of them are nice veterans who can slot into a lot of teams around the league. The Rockets can also throw in a variety of unproven young players into a deal to sweeten the pot. The trade would most likely be on a star on a losing team, one that has flown under the radar. With that said, here are the players that could help the Houston Rockets if James Harden stays put.
5. Buddy Hield
Buddy Hield could be one of the most overlooked players in the NBA. Last season, Hield averaged 19.4 PPG while shooting 39.4% from 3PT range last season on the Sacramento Kings. Hield is a 3PT contest winner and an elite sniper from beyond the arc. More perimeter creation is always welcome, and Hield is a threat to pull up from anywhere from the outside. Having another proven scorer on a roster full of talent could take the Rockets over the top.
Buddy Hield being traded could happen due to the drafting of Tyrese Haliburton. The Fox-Hield duo wasn't going far in the Western Conference, and the Sacramento Kings could focus on shedding Hield's contract and developing Haliburton as De'Aaron Fox's running mate. Haliburton is more of an all-around player who is a huge upgrade on Hield on the defensive end. If Hield gets traded to the Houston Rockets, expect him to come off the bench for James Harden, with heavy minutes during clutch situations when the Rockets could maximize their spacing.
4. Aaron Gordon
Aaron Gordon is one of the most athletic players in the league. In a reversal from last year's small-ball approach, the Rockets signed two big men in Christian Wood and DeMarcus Cousins. Big men who can shoot while being mobile on defense like Christian Wood are some of the most valuable players in the league: perhaps the Rockets could take a chance on a player like Aaron Gordon in the hope that he can push them up a level.
Aaron Gordon's athleticism allows him to guard almost every position on defense, and he's shown to be a passable shooter and okay scorer. If James Harden ends up staying, the Rockets could end up trading for the Orlando Magic forward to shore up their defense. On the Rockets, Gordon won't need to score and can settle into a supplementary role. If the Rockets go up against either of the two Los Angeles teams, then Gordon's athleticism and defense will be crucial in trying to contain LeBron James or Kawhi Leonard.
3. Victor Oladipo
At this point, a lot of casual fans have probably forgotten that Victor Oladipo exists. Oladipo had a mediocre season before the playoffs in the bubble, shooting an abysmal 31.7% from 3PT range and 39.4% from the field. During the playoffs though, his 3PT shooting improved to a good 36.4% on a high volume of 8.3 shots per game. As Oladipo has been recovering from a long term layoff, the fact that his shooting is improving could be a sign of better things to come.
Oladipo could thrive on a different team. On a team with like-minded players coming back from injury like John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins, Oladipo could find his groove. At this point for the Rockets, it's about giving James Harden a well balanced, non-top-heavy roster to win a championship. Having Oladipo, Cousins, and Wall around Harden would give Harden a team that is elite and ready to follow his lead: at this point, Oladipo could be ready to win a championship. On a James Harden team, he's the main scorer, but Oladipo can be a nice supporting player who is a second or third option and a floor spacer.
2. DeMar DeRozan
DeMar DeRozan hasn't been in many media conversations ever since he got traded to the San Antonio Spurs. But even without the attention, DeRozan put up a good season individually on the Spurs. 22.1 PPG, 5.5 RPG, and 5.6 APG are All-Star numbers, or at least they would be if DeRozan's team made the playoffs, or were higher in the standings. DeRozan is an elite veteran stuck on a team that needs to rebuild, and it is about time that he started competing for a championship team again. He is a midrange maestro who still has a lot to offer to a contending team.
We know that DeRozan can't be the leading scorer on a championship-contending team: but perhaps he could be a complementary piece to a superstar. Just because DeRozan can't be a No. 1 option doesn't mean that he is a bad player: he just needs to be put in the right situation. With a scorer like James Harden in front of him, DeRozan wouldn't have the pressure to score and would have the space to use his one on one midrange game on weaker defenders, with James Harden drawing the better defenders' attention.
1. Kevin Love
Kevin Love is a championship-winning All-Star. With the amount of disrespect that he gets, people may have forgotten that the previous statement is factually correct. Kevin Love played a huge role on the 2016 championship Cleveland Cavaliers team: his ability to be a big man who spaces the floor at an elite level is something that is useful to put around any superstar. Kevin Love can be a vital piece on a contending team, and perhaps he can do so on the Houston Rockets.
There are many trade packages for Kevin Love that make sense: but if Kevin Love could go to a contending team, he'd do so in a heartbeat. Why not the Rockets? With the addition of Kevin Love, they have another All-Star caliber talent. On the Houston Rockets, perhaps Kevin Love could show why he was integral in LeBron James' 3rd ring, and why just a few years ago, he was an All-Star caliber player.