6 reasons why a Houston Rockets and James Harden reunion is a bad idea

N.B. Lindberg
Charlotte Hornets v Philadelphia 76ers
Charlotte Hornets v Philadelphia 76ers / Tim Nwachukwu/GettyImages
3 of 4

Reason #3: Harden’s timeline doesn’t align with the Rockets' 

The Rockets are building to compete in 2025. By then, Harden will be 36. For every LeBron James and Chris Paul, there are hundreds of players who are washed by 36. Signing Harden to a massive contract and banking on him aging finer than his admittedly mediocre wine would be a massive gamble. 

I’m sure Rockets fans are thinking about the Phoenix Suns and how Chris Paul turned them into a title contender overnight, but they’re misremembering. Devin Booker had already completed five NBA seasons and was coming off a three-season run where he averaged 26.1 points per game, Mikal Bridges only had two-season under his belt but was entering his age-24 season, and Deandre Ayton had already averaged 17.0 points and 10.7 rebounds over his first two seasons. 

The Suns’ young core was much further along than the Rockets’. Timing is important, and the timing isn’t right. James Harden needs to win now, and the Rockets don’t have a roster that’s ready to win big in 2023-24. Could they gut it and build a contender over an offseason? Absolutely, but that would only open up a short window of contention that would likely close as fast as it opened. 

Reason #2: James Harden isn’t the best option for the Rockets

The best free agent in the 2023 offseason will be James Harden. He remains an excellent player, but he is far removed from the dominant force he was in Houston. He will make any team better, but he cannot carry a team like he once did. For the 2023-24 Rockets to compete, they’ll need Harden to carry them, and he probably will, but what would that ultimately amount to? 

The Rockets will win more games in the short term, but how will it help them when Jalen Green, Jabari Smith Jr., Alperen Sengun, Tari Eason, and Kevin Porter Jr. enter their primes? If Harden is on a massive contract, and the Rockets’ core all land sensible rookie-scale extensions, then that will be the team. Is 35-year-old James Harden the best star player for the 2024-25 Rockets? I’d say absolutely not. 

His presence crystallizes the Rockets’ roster for the next few seasons and forces them to add talent only through trade. That may not seem like a problem, but it could prove disastrous. Let’s just assume Harden, Green, and Smith Jr. are all on large contracts and viewed as the Rockets’ core. For the Rockets to upgrade their roster through trade, they’ll likely have to part with players like Eason, Porter Jr., and/or Sengun, along with picks.  

Now, let’s say the Rockets don’t add Harden and sign two or three players over the next few offseasons to reasonable deals in the range of $15 million to $25 million. Suddenly, those are the salary-matching deals, and along with picks, they land the Rockets their next star. That star could be anybody, but chances are they’ll be younger and better than Harden would be at that stage. 

James Harden is great. He is the second-greatest Rocket ever. He just isn’t the right type of star for the Rockets in 2023, and he could very well be the reason they can’t acquire the right star down the line. The best option in the moment isn’t always the best option. You don’t have to buy something when you walk into the store. Adding Harden this offseason would be like buying a Jetski before you even have a beach house.