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Houston Rockets: When will James Harden be traded?

James Harden of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
James Harden of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
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James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The Houston Rockets have already started their regular season but the James Harden remains, which begs the question, when will James Harden be traded?

The Houston Rockets have been in no rush to trade James Harden. The three-time scoring champion first made it clear that he would like to be traded in November when he informed the franchise he’d like to be moved to the Brooklyn Nets.

While the Nets were atop Harden’s list, there were never any serious trade discussions between the two sides. It became clear very quickly that the trade package the Nets were presenting to the Rockets was not going to be enough, which prompted the rest of the league to ask themselves if Harden was the missing piece in their championship puzzle.

As time has gone on, Harden has added more teams to his list but he remains a Houston Rocket. Rumors have swirled that have linked Harden to just about every contender and the staring match between him and the franchise has only intensified as he has continuously flaunted NBA health and safety protocols.

The questionable judgment Harden has shown off the court will do little to alter his value around the league and the production he’s capable of on it seems as sharp as ever. In his regular-season debut, he erupted for 44 points to go along with a career-high-tying 17 assists as an undermanned Rockets team fell to the Portland Trail Blazers 126-128 in overtime.

https://videos.nba.com/nba/pbp/media/2020/12/26/0022000029/246/dbf64cdb-9827-416e-f9b6-a1460da705f5_1280x720.mp4

The Rockets, at full strength and with Harden, would be a formidable team but likely just outside the championship conversation. Unfortunately, Harden hasn’t indicated that he has changed his mind about his future.

Until he says otherwise, Rockets fans should savior Harden’s final games because he remains a transcendent offensive talent. However, his trade looms over the franchise like a dark cloud, and the questions on all Rockets’ fans’ minds have not changed, why hasn’t James Harden been traded and when will it finally happen?

Next: Why hasn’t Harden been traded yet?

James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

Houston Rockets: Why James Harden hasn’t been traded yet

The clock is ticking for the Rockets to trade James Harden. While he remains under contract for the next two seasons, each passing game represents one less game he’ll play for a new team.

If the Rockets want to receive full value for him they’ll have to trade him sooner rather than later and a move at the trade deadline would probably see them receive a lighter offer than if they had moved him in the offseason. If the Rockets know they need to move him quickly to get the best return, then why haven’t they moved him?

The main problem is, that the only teams who have any real use for Harden are teams that are true title contenders. Harden is in his 30’s and only under contract for two more seasons before a player option, which shrinks the field of serious suitors to teams that believe they can win the title this season or next.

Most title contenders are veteran teams that have used their future assets to become contenders in the first place. The list of teams that can win a championship this year and have the assets to bring Harden in is relatively small.

Teams like the Denver Nuggets and Boston Celtics have the young talent and are close enough to a championship that bringing Harden in makes sense and is also doable, but this also adds another layer to the equation. When a team has an exciting young core their championship window is set to be open for years to come.

The addition of James Harden would increase their chances of winning a title in 2021 and 2022 but it’d hurt them in 2025 and 2026. These are the types of internal conversations that all teams have and how they weigh the present and the future will determine their appetite for trading for Harden.

So far, the Nuggets and the Celtics have prioritized the future but that could change in an instant. What if Giannis or LeBron suffered a season-ending injury? All of a sudden a championship in 2021 would look much more attainable and make a Harden trade all the more appealing.

In short, Harden hasn’t been traded yet because no team capable of it has made the decision that this is the season they want to win the title. That will change as the games begin to count and teams gain a clearer picture of the league pecking order.

Next: When will Harden be traded?

James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Houston Rockets: When James Harden will be traded

The Rockets are looking for maximum value in any James Harden trade. Throughout the history of the league, the team that trades a superstar away almost always ends up the loser.

This fate doesn’t have to befall the Rockets, but it means they have to be exceedingly diligent throughout the whole process. Any trade package that doesn’t net them a legitimate young All-Star could see the franchise spiral into a never-ending abyss of lottery picks.

The Rockets are waiting for the right offer but playing the waiting game is a double-edged sword. The longer the Rockets wait to trade Harden, the fewer games he can play for the receiving team.

The hard deadline for a Harden trade, if the Rockets want maximum value in a trade, is this year’s trade deadline. However, the Rockets shouldn’t wait that long because every team in the league knows this as well.

Leverage is everything and if the trade deadline approaches and the Rockets still have Harden then it’s likely they won’t get a trade package worthy of his services. For practical matters, the Rockets will need to move Harden well before the trade deadline to maintain a position of power in trade negotiations.

Another factor has to do with the fallout from the Coronavirus pandemic and the condensed NBA offseason that led to the 2020 draft being held on November 18th. Per NBA rules, players who have just been drafted are not allowed to be traded, once they sign a contract until 30 days have passed.

What this means, is that over the next few weeks a bunch of 2020 first-round picks will be available in trades that weren’t when Harden initially asked to be traded. The NBA has stringent rules about teams not being able to trade future draft picks in consecutive drafts, so a team that has the ability to include a 2020 draft pick could use that player to appease the Rockets’ draft compensation desires.

A team could send the Rockets the player they drafted in 2020, their 2021 first-round pick, and their 2023 first-round pick, which would, in essence, give the Rockets three first-round picks. When teams are able to include their 2020 draftee it will instantly allow them to improve their offers, which is why the Rockets are wise to wait.

The trade deadline, as of now, is set for March 25th, which means the Rockets only have three more months to move Harden if they want the return they think they deserve. Expect Harden to be traded no later than March 1st and, in all likelihood, he’ll be moved sometime in mid-January.

Next. Ranking the Celtics, Raptors, and Nuggets offers for James Harden

Harden is a team’s ticket to the finals which means someone will wise up and pay the Rockets’ price. Expect that day to be sooner rather than later and if no franchise is willing to pull the trigger then it might just be the Rockets who make it out of the west and into the finals.

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