The Houston Rockets are rumored to be in trade discussions over James Harden with the Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptor, and Denver Nuggets. Here is who has the best offer for the Rockets.
Rumors have surfaced that the Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors, and the Denver Nuggets have interest in Houston Rockets’ superstar James Harden. The three franchises all made the playoffs last season but know they are a player short of reaching the finals.
James Harden remains the best player available on the market, and with the flurry of extensions handed out this offseason the summer of 2021 might not have a single notable free agent to court. The Celtics, Raptors, and Nuggets are loaded with the type of young talent the Rockets have demanded from teams in any Harden talks.
While all three have the ammunition to pull off a trade, only one of them can land Harden. If a bidding war ensues the Rockets will have to weigh each franchise’s offer and will have the ability to extract maximum value.
Each of these franchises, due to their internal talent, could decide to wait and let their cores grow overtime to open a championship window. However, superstar players have not shown the same willingness to wait around for a title window to open as they did in years past.
The Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers were proactive in free agency and through trade the last offseason as they built two of the most talented rosters in the league. As the saying goes, “fortune favors the bold,” and whichever team seizes this moment could see itself secure a trip to the NBA finals.
The question for the Rockets is, which one of these teams has the best offer, and will they be willing to pay such a steep price. Championship caliber rosters are rare and the teams that maximize their windows are the ones that get to raise a banner to the rafters, between the Celtics, Raptors, and Nuggets who has the best offer?
Next: Trade number 3
#3: The Toronto Raptors offer for James Harden
The Raptors know a thing or two about trading for a disgruntled superstar and turning it into a championship. Their trade for Kawhi Leonard in the summer of 2018 secured them the ultimate prize, but would they be willing to roll the dice again and go after James Harden?
While the Raptors won a championship, they were only able to keep Leonard for a single season before he bolted in free agency to join the Los Angeles Clippers. Harden has two more years on his deal before a player option, which gives the Raptors a chance at two title runs with the NBA’s most dangerous isolation scorer.
The Rockets won’t sell low on Harden but the Raptors have the young players and assets to see this deal through. Pascal Siakam is 26-years-old, under contract for the next four seasons, and is coming off his first All-Star appearance.
Siakam is a good player but his 2019-20 has divided people in the industry over whether he is merely a good player or a franchise player. With the departure of Kawhi Leonard, Siakam saw his usage rate skyrocket from 20.8-percent in 2018-19 to 28.1-percent in 2019-20.
With the ball in his hands more he went from averaging 16.9 points to 22.9 points per game. However, his efficiency suffered tremendously and his effective-field goal percentage went from 59.1-percent to 51.2-percent.
This was his first season as the main cog on offense but it appeared in 2019-20 that Siakam is best suited as a second option on offense and not the lead man. This doesn’t make him a scrub, but it means his upside might be limited to an All-Star and nothing more.
Siakam remains an excellent defender and if playing next to a true offensive fulcrum, like Kawhi Leonard, he is excellent at cutting and finding easy buckets. Norman Powell is not a household name, but he is a good complimentary player and one of the reasons the Raptors finished with the second-best record in the Eastern Conference even after the departure of Kawhi Leonard.
Powell averaged 16 points per game on incredibly efficient shooting. His shooting percentages from 2-point (57.5-percent), 3-point (39.9-percent), and the free-throw line (84.3-percent) were all well above league average.
Powell and Siakam are NBA ready contributors that would keep the Rockets in the playoff hunt even with Harden gone. However, what really makes a deal with the Raptors tantalizing is that they own all of their upcoming draft picks.
The Rockets would be able to get at least three first-round picks and multiple pick swaps. The Raptors, if they get James Harden, and offload Siakam, will be a veteran team that might not be very competitive in five seasons.
Harden is 31-years-old and a free agent in two seasons and Kyle Lowry is 34. The Raptors would still have OG Anunoby and Fred VanVleet but there is a chance they could be in the lottery in the near future.
While the Raptors can hand the Rockets two good players and a cache of draft picks, the NBA talent lacks the upside that the Rockets will want for any Harden replacement. The Raptor’s best offer is safe, but the upside of the next offer would be too much to pass up.
Next: Trade number 2
#2: The Denver Nuggets offer for James Harden
The Nuggets’ run to the Western Conference Finals that saw them overcome two 3-1 series deficits made them the darlings of the bubble but it also highlighted a team that is still far away from being a serious title contender. The addition of James Harden would instantly change that and give the Nuggets the best trio in the NBA.
Harden, Nikola Jokic, and Jamal Murray would form a devastating core capable of shredding any opposing defense. However, to get him the Nuggets would have to offload depth and their tantalizing prospect Michael Porter Jr.
Few players possess the combination of length and shot-making ability that Porter Jr. does and his offensive potential is limitless. While Porter’s final season stat line for 2019-20 was not eye-popping, he only averaged 9.3 points and 4.7 rebounds per game, he steadily improved as the season went on.
The Nuggets slowly worked him into the lineup over the first half of the season. Over his first 26 games, he averaged 10.4 minutes and 6.1 points per game. From that moment on until the end of the regular season, he saw his minutes spike to 21.9 per game and his scoring rise to 12.2 points per game.
Porter’s efficiency from the field over this period was fantastic as well, with averages of 49.6-percent from the field, 44.2-percent from 3-point range, and 87.3-percent from the free-throw line. At his peak, there is a real possibility that he could join the 50/40/90 club while being an offensive focal point.
The only concern with Porter Jr., and the reason why he might be available for trade, is his scary injury history. Porter missed most of his lone collegiate season due to a back injury that never fully healed and caused him to miss all of what would have been his rookie season.
When he was finally healthy the Nuggets limited his playing time by giving him nights off and managing his minutes. Franchise players need to be able to play at least 32 minutes a game each and every night.
While Porter Jr. would be the headliner in a James Harden trade, Will Barton and Gary Harris are both above average NBA players that would give the Rockets enviable depth. Barton is in the final year of his contract before a player option but he is a jack of trades contributor.
Last season, he averaged 15.1 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 3.7 assists while posting a career-high effective field goal percentage of 52.3-percent. Barton is the type of player that gets overlooked by fans and the media but he has been an integral part of some very good Nuggets teams.
Gary Harris is one of the most interesting players in the entire league. Over his first four seasons, he showed steady growth as he became a borderline All-Star at only 23 years old.
His combination of production and youth earned him a four year $84 million extension from the Nuggets in October of 2017. However, Harris has regressed badly over the past two seasons.
Gary Harris the past four seasons:
PTS/G FG% 3P% 2016-17 & 2017-18: 16.3 49.2% 40.5%
2018-19 & 2019-20: 11.7 42.2% 33.6%
It’s extremely rare for a player to be as productive as Harris was in his age 22 and 23 seasons and then suddenly become a scrub at age 24 and 25. He hasn’t suffered any major injuries, and if he regains his form, the Rockets could have themselves a borderline All-Star, on a good contract, who is entering their prime.
The reason the Nuggets aren’t first on this list is that they don’t own all of their upcoming draft picks. They could realistically offer the Rockets two first-rounders, that will likely be late in the first round, and a few pick swaps.
The NBA talent they’d send the Rockets is legit and has the best upside but it is a risky package nonetheless. To be number one you need to build a safe high upside trade package that has picks galore.
Next: Trade number 1
#1: The Boston Celtics offer for James Harden
The Celtics have sneakily made the Eastern Conference Finals three of the past four seasons but an injection of James Harden could see them finally breakthrough. Jayson Tatum is non-negotiable, he is one of the best young players in the league, and his value on the market would be higher than Harden’s.
However, Jaylen Brown is an extremely valuable trade chip in his own right. He’s entering his prime, he’s cost controlled for multiple seasons, and he can help your team make a playoff push right away.
Last season, Brown set career highs in points, rebounds, assists, and steals per game. His combination of scoring and defending makes him one of the league’s better two-way players and should allow him to fit nicely next to John Wall.
Brown recently turned 24, which gives him more upside but the bar he set last season makes him a borderline All-Star at worst for the foreseeable future. Marcus Smart, while not the offensive player Brown is, is one of the best perimeter defenders in the league and is under contract for the next two seasons.
Smart’s 3-point stroke is not elite but he has become a credible threat from beyond the arc. His presence in the Houston starting lineup would give the Rockets a defender capable of matching up with the plethora of high octane perimeter players that play in the Western Conference.
No team is going to get better after losing James Harden but the combination of Brown and Smart would go a long way to alleviate his loss. While the Celtics can offer high-quality NBA contributors with upside, they also own all of their picks going forward.
The Celtics would have to part with most of their upcoming picks but it’d be well worth it to build a championship-caliber roster. Jayson Tatum is young and elite, which means the franchise won’t be in the lottery for the next decade, so hoarding draft picks has limited value to them.
The Rockets should look to the Celtics as the best landing spot for themselves and James Harden. They can get a treasure trove of picks and secure two players that will keep them in the playoff picture for the next few seasons.
James Harden is a one-of-a-kind player but he is past the age of 30 and his best seasons might be behind him. The Rockets will be better prepared to compete in 2030 if they move him than if they keep him, even if it means taking a step back in the early 2020s.