Why it could be difficult to prove the Rockets tampered with James Harden

Brooklyn Nets v Houston Rockets
Brooklyn Nets v Houston Rockets / Bob Levey/GettyImages

It's well known that the Houston Rockets and James Harden want each other. If you've followed the NBA this season, you surely know that.

The Rockets are looking to make a big splash this offseason and find themselves with $67 million to spend. Harden would be the most attainable "star" player for the franchise to reel in, not to mention the effect Harden would have on ticket sales.

Harden and the Rockets have been linked since December and Uno was even training at the Rockets' Toyota Center before the 2023 playoffs commenced, which raised a few eyebrows. The latest report regarding the Rockets' interest in Harden has certainly garnered the attention of Adam Silver and the league office.

According to Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Rockets sought the opinion of several prospective coaches of coaching James Harden during their coaching search. On the surface, this seems like blatant tampering, but it's not that simple. In fact, it's never that simple, as it pertains to tampering.

Why it could be difficult to prove the Rockets tampered with James Harden

The issue here is that Harden is under contract, as opposed to a free agent. Sure, he's going to be a free agent when he declines his $35.6 million player option at the end of the season, but he wasn't at the time. Obviously the Rockets have had contact with him, but which faction of the franchise had contact with him? 

We know for sure it was the players, because Harden trained with the team over the summer and has been in communication with Jalen Green, as both players are label mates under Adidas. Is there a problem with that? Surely not, that's common.

Is that where it stopped, with just the players? How can it be proven otherwise?

If the players had been in contact with Harden and told the organization that he was interested, that's not something that can be policed by the league. The flip side of the equation is whether the Rockets have been in contact with Harden's agent, but Harden doesn't have an agent so that's scrapped.

If he had an agent, in theory, the Rockets would be allowed to communicate with said party, so long as it didn't extend to Harden directly. If the Sixers do, in fact, lose Harden to the Rockets, they surely will file tampering charges, because they kind of have to.

But based on how the league polices tampering (the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat were both stripped of a second-round pick in 2021), it might not matter that much anyways.