Yeah, Yeah, Yeah I know that free agency has barely started and guys haven’t even officially signed but stick with me on this. The Rockets will absolutely not explore trading James Hardenthis summer, but maybe they should. He has two years left on his contract, and I’m not so sure that Harden would re-sign once he hits the open market.
So what should the Rockets do?
The case for keeping Harden is simple. He is one of the best players in the league. While people may criticize his defense, and rightly so, he is a good offensive player. Since joining the Rockets, he has averaged at least 25 points per game. Each of the last three seasons he has finished in the top 11 of PER, and in the top ten of estimated wins added, including finishing in the top two each of the past two seasons.
He is a very good player. If I had to put together my dream Olympic team for 2016, Harden would be on it.
The case for exploring trading Harden is even more fascinating to me. While it does go against the idea in Houston of getting big name superstars, I think the possibility should be looked into. Daryl Morey’s philosophy has always been two things: acquiring assets, and using said assets to acquire big name players. Whether it’s through free agency or trade, getting big names has always been the name of the game. They got one when they traded for James Harden. The result was that Harden became one of the best players in the league, and pushed the Rockets into the playoff picture.
However, since getting James Harden, the Rockets haven’t exactly found other stars to put around him. Yeah they had Dwight Howard, but he wasn’t the Dwight Howard that he was with the Magic. They tried to get Chris Bosh, and failed when he re-signed with the Heat. They wanted Carmelo Anthony when he hit the market, but Melo went back to New York(and what a dumb idea that was for the so called “business man”. He could have signed a two year deal with a player option for a third year, and hit the market this summer and cashed in). Then this summer, they failed to even land a meeting with Kevin Durant, a friend of James Harden.
So after striking out with so many free agents, should the Rockets consider trading him this summer? He does have two years left on his contract, and could fetch a pretty good return for Morey. Sure it would mean losing the superstar that he has searched so long for, part of the reason I don’t think they will actually look to trade him for at least the next calendar year, but there is a serious risk that he could leave once his contract is up.
The Rockets could get a huge return for him too.
One that includes both young players who could develop into stars, and picks that can produce stars. The Celtics would be one team that could make such a trade work. They have great young players, and picks that could end up high in the lottery (depending on who they trade away, the Celtics could make the math work to get Durant AND Harden. It would be hard, but that would be quite the trio).
One other reason that they could get a huge return for Harden is that he is one of the best players in the league on a contract that looks really good right now.
Would you rather pay James Harden about $35 million for the next two years, or Mike Conleynearly $60 million for the next two years. The rising cap makes Harden’s deal look more and more like a steal. Paying a guy $18 million this year means he is taking up less 20% of the cap, and depending on the cap next year, could take up about 15%.
That is a steal. I may not be the biggest fan of Harden’s game, I wish he was better on the defensive end like many, but I love his deal now. Granted that goes for anyone who signed a large deal before this summer, but Harden still belongs to that group.
The final reason Houston should at least look into trading Harden, is that I don’t think he is going to re-sign in Houston. While a lot can change in a year or two, I have doubts that Houston can be good enough to make Harden want to stay.
I like Ryan Anderson, but he has a similar problem to Harden in that his defense isn’t great. Playing the two together could be catastrophic on the defensive end of the floor. The Rockets have fallen behind the elites of the Western Conferences. I think the Rockets could sneak into the playoffs, but get eliminated by one of said elite teams. If they don’t this season, and I’m skeptical that Morey will (again, I’m arguing that he should, not that he will), the Rockets NEED to explore moving him.
As I’ve laid out, I think that the Rockets should explore moving him. The risk that he could leave is just too great to not cash out on him right now.
He has a great contract, is a good player, and could fetch a lot in return for the Rockets. They won’t be a title contending team this year, and most likely won’t be the year after this. The threat of him leaving, to say the Lakers, who I’m sure would love to have anyone, is just too great in my opinion.
While Morey doesn’t HAVE to move Harden right now, I think he should put out some trade feelers this summer to see what the value of Harden around the league is.
Ted Van Green
Spark Sports Analyst