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Houston Rockets first move toward mediocrity would be to trade James Harden

Apr 24, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) reacts while playing against the Golden State Warriors in the second half in game four of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at Toyota Center. Golden State Warriors won 121 to 94. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 24, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) reacts while playing against the Golden State Warriors in the second half in game four of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at Toyota Center. Golden State Warriors won 121 to 94. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports
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For several months pundits have suggested the Houston Rockets real issue may be James Harden and perhaps he should be traded. Social media is abuzz with fans reactions and I am here to offer my opinion on this potentially foolish move.

 There might be no truth to rumors and from what we know Houston Rockets management have strong faith in James Harden and his ability to lead the franchise to greatness. However, there are always haters. First, there are haters in and around the whole Red Nation. No one gets ridiculed more than Harden for his inability to defend and his “flopping”.

The questions surrounding whether Harden should be traded gained traction in February following ESPN’s Kevin Pelton article that offered 4 potential trade options.

NBA Rumors: Harden trade would be good for Rockets VIDEO EVIDENCE https://t.co/jTHnjkfmCZ via @Sports Rageous – Best sports news on the web

— Space City Scoop (@SpaceCity_Scoop) May 7, 2016

Of course I am not here to complain about those people as every fan deserves the right to an opinion – it’s their team  That said, I am here to reason with the Rockets’ fans who might think the franchise could do better without Harden. Here are three arguments

from my perspective which might influence doubters to reconsider.

Replacing Harden’s Talent is No Easy Task:

Harden is not the best superstar on the planet.  Arguably Harden doesn’t rank top 5, especially given his lack of 2-way production, However there is no doubt he is among the best offensively with the skill set to improve defensively. Here is a simple truth: If the Rockets could replace James Harden with Stephen Curry, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, or Russell Westbrook, then maybe parting with the beard is a good move. But since none of  their respective teams are unlikely to do a straight up swap or the free agents would  list Houston as their primary destination  the argument  to part with Harden isn’t logical.

Swapping Super Star Talent?

Maybe we could trade Harden for someone who would be closer to his ability. Around the league, there are talks about the Indiana Pacers wanting to trade Paul George and start anew.  Tim Daniels of Bleacher Report followed up on a Bill Simmons of the Ringer’s suggestion the Lakers will trade their top 3 pick for George.

Also hearing that the Lakers want to make a BIG run at Paul George with their top-3 pick plus other stuff. (Not that they'd get him…)

— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) May 4, 2016

Additionally, there are always the rumors around Carmelo Anthony. Jimmy Butler (as per the Vertical’s Chris Mannix)  has also been subjected to copious trade rumors. Could trading for those players  be beneficial to the Rockets?

The Two-Man Game – Toronto's Carroll conundrum https://t.co/7DvKJZbQ0W via @Yahoo

— Space City Scoop (@SpaceCity_Scoop) May 7, 2016

Here’s the thing, those players are on the trade market (if they actually are) for a reason. None of the teams that they played for advanced pass the first round of the playoffs. One might say that the Indiana Pacers  came pretty close to the second round. But, against a Toronto Raptors team with Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan shooting (.316) and (.319) from the field, respectively, plus (.163) and (.167) from the 3-point line, I would give the Rockets with Harden a better fighting chance.

The Big Haul:

Trading Harden could potentially result in enough assets to balance the roster, creating a team without a superstar, but with added depth and versatility. Some models of that structure are the Atlanta Hawks, the Charlotte Hornets, the Utah Jazz, or the Boston Celtics. The funny thing is, none of them  got past the first round of the playoffs either. None of the teams I did and/or could have listed would stand a chance against the Golden State Warriors in the first round of the playoffs. Even without Curry,  the Warriors  overall ability is far superior to any team not based in Cleveland. Further, I don’t think trading away a superstar for useful pieces is a good way to solve the Rockets’ problems.

Most Feasible Option:

Of all the three scenarios, the third scenario is the most likely and the easiest to aim for. We could find useful pieces everywhere, but not a superstar. The Houston Rockets has what four-fifths of the league wish to have,: a superstar that can close the game for them. If the Hawks had someone like Harden, they might not get blown out by Cleveland, as they have the past  two games. If the Celtics had Harden, they would have  beat the Hawks and  moved on to play the Cleveland Cavaliers themselves.

Out of 446 active NBA players, there might be only 10 or 11 players that can be considered as equal to or better than Harden. Those players are not just useful players, they are superstars. In Harden, the Rockets have someone even  more talented teams  are wishing for. So, what could be the reason for the Rockets to give him up?

In Football, you don’t ask the quarterback to adapt to the team, you build a team around the quarterback. Similarly, if the Rockets want to improve, they  shouldn’t ask Harden to adapt to their desired play style Nor should they keep adding  inferior players that might fit with that predetermined style better. If they want to get better, they need to build a team around Harden.

To wit:

  • Harden prefers to orchestrate the offense as the primary ball handler: Houston’s response in the off season was to trade  for Ty Lawson, a ball-dominant player.
  • Harden is not known for his stellar defense. What did the Rockets do to help with that? They acquired Marcus Thornton, a streaky shooter who played no defense.

These missteps

negatively affected  the overall chemistry of the team.

Summation:

More from Space City Scoop

I am not arguing that the Rockets should definitely keep Harden at all costs. There are cases where it is better for a team to part with a star. For example

s

, if

DeMarcus Cousins

keeps being a distraction off the court or he shows further disrespect to the future coach, then it might be better to trade him. But, sometimes, it might not be that clear cut.

Magic Johnson complained about Paul Westhead and Jerry Buss fired the coach instead of trading the superstar. That was a good decision. Allen Iverson‘s constant clashes with Larry Brown might be a distraction and the decision of not trading him or parting with the coach might not have been the right decision. But, it is hard to see how the Philadelphia 76ers would be better without AI in his prime.

The worst thing a team can be in the NBA is mediocre. If they

‘re

stink, they get  a decent draft pick. If they’re good, they get a shot at the championship. If they’re so-so, they have neither. Maybe trading away Harden might help the Rockets. The ball might run smoother and the chemistry might be better. But, no one would give the Houston Rockets a second thought.

The Rockets would not be a focal point comes the playoffs because they would have no chance to compete with the upper echelon of teams in the West. They would also not be a focal point comes the draft because they  wouldn’t end up with a good pick. They would become mediocre. In my opinion trading Harden without thinking things through is the first step toward that mediocrity.

Next: Has Houston Rockets GM Morey put analytics ahead of character?

Next: Houston Rockets Should Pursue Mike Conley

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