Trade no. 1: LA Clippers & Sacramento Kings
This trade seems unlikely but every team makes out a bit better. The Rockets would send James Harden and Eric Gordon to the Clippers, the Clippers would send Paul George, Patrick Beverley, and Lou Williams to the Kings, and the Kings would send Buddy Heild, Harrison Barnes, Marvin Bagley, and a whole host of picks and pick-swaps to the Rockets.
In the short-term, the Rockets will be worse but over the long haul, this deal has the potential to greatly improve the franchise’s outlook after they lost a treasure-trove of assets to acquire Russell Westbrook. Bagley had an impressive rookie season before suffering through an injury obscured second-season but he could be a high-end frontcourt player in his prime.
Hield isn’t a great player but he is a good high volume 3-point shooter and his contract gets less expensive over time so it’s a contract that will only increase in value. Harrison Barnes’ contract is similar to Hield’s in that way, which means the Rockets could easily move the two down the line or reap more and more value from them as they get less expensive.
The Kings fresh off of extending De’Aaron Fox need a true superstar next to him if they want to make it into the West’s crowded playoff picture and Paul George would represent just that. The Kings snagging Beverley and Williams would give them a deep and multi-faceted backcourt that should allow them to secure their first playoff appearance since 2006.
The Clipper would be able to pair James Harden with Kawhi Leonard and solidify their chances at the finals. Leonard has stated that he doesn’t like being a primary ball-handler and Harden has plenty of experience running an offense.
The combination of Harden and Leonard would make the Clippers the favorites to make it out of the West. While both are exceptional scorers, the pair’s other strengths, Leonard’s defense and Harden’s passing, mask their partners’ deficiencies.
The Rockets’ return of players is not at the Anthony Davis trade’s level but they’ll get a similar draft package from the Kings. The Kings will throw in three future firsts and pick swaps to pry Paul George out of Los Angeles and the Clippers will send those picks to Rockets to get James Harden.
This massive move is really a Kings trade for Paul George and then the Clippers using that return to get James Harden. The Rockets might have to let one of the Kings picks stay in Los Angeles to pay the Clippers for taking on Eric Gordon’s contract.
This move sets the Rockets up to be competitive for the next few seasons while simultaneously building for the future. Hield and Barnes are not All-Stars but they’re good NBA players who are on contracts that will only get better.
If the Rockets want to get a fair return for James Harden they’ll need a third team to get involved to provide the talent and picks they’re demanding. The Rockets shouldn’t sell low but if Harden continues to be a no-show for training camp then their hand could be forced.