James Harden trade destinations: Clippers lead the pack, but Knicks, Heat, Celtics and Bucks loom
The NBA offseason frequently produces a sυrprise or two, and the Philadelphia 76ers certainly did that on Thursday. It turns out that James Harden won’t play for either of his previous teams, the Houston Rockets, or the Philadelphia 76ers, despite months of rυmors that he would. According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Harden will exercise his right to opt out of his contract and the 76ers will try to trade him. Although Harden had the option to leave and join the Rockets, it appears like Houston is determined on Fred VanVleet as its key backcourt acquisition this offseason.
What is Harden doing now? There are many contenders that could use a primary ball-handler, but it appears that he has his eye on one of them. Here are five potential destinations for the 2018 MVP while the trade process is still in its early stages.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers appear to have been seeking for a rҽal point guard for ages. They rejected a Malcolm Brogdon contract due to his health. Last year, they acquired John Wall and Russell Westbrook. Rajon Rondo gave the Clippers a shot. Since signing Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, they have been connected to almost every other high-profile point guard who has recently entered the market. The most desirable option thus far is Harden.
He plays at a similar glacial tempo as Leonard and George do. He would be joining a squad that was recently ranked 28th in the NBA in potential assists and is the league leader in assists. Los Angeles may provide defensive coverage for him. Leonard might make up for his postseason shortcomings because he is an all-time playoff assαssin when healthy*. Harden is one of the most resilient players in the NBA and might help the Clippers get through the regular season.
Let’s talk about that other Los Angeles team while we’re talking about the subject. The Lakers don’t seem to be a serious bidder right now. In the past, these might have made sense. After all, Rob Pelinka was formerly Harden’s agent. But about an hour before Harden’s destiny became known, the Lakers dismissed Mo Bamba and turned down Malik Beasley’s team option. That would have been the quickest way for their salaries to match. This league involves tampering. That choice wasn’t one the Lakers made on a whim. They simply seem to be working on other things.
Damian Lillard seems to be the player Miami is currently most interested in. In an empty space, that is the right decision. Lillard is a terrific athlete. His style of play is more suited to Miami’s inclusive offense. Harden’s previous two trade requests were not taken seriously by the Heat, it appears. What makes it different now?
It would likely require a particular set of circumstances. For Portland to persuade Miami that Lillard isn’t available, the free agency process would have to be sufficiently successful. Here, negotiations would have to carry on for a while. Harden would need to persuade the Heat that he could adhere to their notoriously rigid conditioning requirements, especially in one of the NBA’s best nightlife areas. Even though it would undoubtedly be less than Lillard’s, the pricing would still need to be fair. That might include taking a smaller package of picks than the three Miami can offer or letting Miami keep Tyler Herro.
It’s no sҽcret that Miami is in desperate need of another shot-maker, and a partnership with Jimmy Butler makes sense much as Leonard’s postseason skills complement Harden’s durability throughout the regular season. Bam Adebayo is the ideal big man for Harden because he can run the more difficult two-man game he created with Joel Embiid or catch lobs. Fans of Philadelphia already had to witness the success of one of their former stars in Florida. There is an evident match here, even though it would be painful to see Harden team up with Butler and Adebayo for a Finals run.
New York Knicks
One of the first teams to be connected to Harden was the Knicks. According to SNY’s Ian Begley, the reasoning basically comes down to their perceived need for a star, and not everyone in the company seems to be interested in the same things. It’s feasible, if not likely, that Jalen Brunson is a superior point guard to Harden right now based on the postseasons they just had. A partnership is not very logical. As the main ball-handler, Brunson moved to New York. It is a waste of his skill set to ask him to watch Harden dribble.
But what if the Knicks do choose to follow this path? They are equipped to accomplish it. The Knicks own future first-round picks from Dallas, Washington, Detroit, and Milwaukee that might be used as leverage in negotiations, in addition to all of their own first-round picks going forward. The Knicks might be able to acquire Harden now through a trade without giving up the resources they would need to sign a bigger, younger star in the future.
Who would the Knicks utilize as a matching salary is the true question in this situation. The Knicks no longer have access to $15 million because Derrick Rose’s option wasn’t exercised. After Evan Fournier, who has a contract that is about to expire, everyone is fairly valuable. Would the Knicks include Julius Randle or RJ Barrett in such a move? They might simply need to make a deal profitable.
This is the super squad Harden needs. Al Horford, Malcolm Brogdon, and Payton Pritchard can be traded by the Celtics in order to almost exactly equal Harden’s contract. With the exception of the pick swapped to San Antonio, they are in complete control of their future draft capital. Since they have Grant Williams’ Bird Rights in free agency, they legally still have the option to bring him back.
Overall, this indicates that there is a highly likely scenario in which James Harden, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Robert Williams, and Kristaps Porzingis start for Boston, with Derrick White and Grant Williams serving as the reserves. All it would cost is a huge amount of tax money. On paper, this is one of the few teams Harden could get to that would immediately be favored in a seven-game series against the defending champion Nuggets. The Celtics would still need to fill out their roster with minimum salaries after this, and their frontcourt still carries a lot of injυry risks, but this is one of the few teams Harden could get to that would do so.
Would Philadelphia give up Harden for its most hated foe? There is a case can be made for doing this merely to weaken them afterwards. Harden is 34 years old. Harden’s prime, or what’s left of it, will probably be over by the time Philadelphia is able to rebuild its team and is prepared to start winning again. Such topics are not typically a focus for Daryl Morey. No matter what, he will strike the best bargain possible. The bigger question is if Boston is willing to spend what it takes to assemble this roster in terms of draft picks and, more importantly, money. Harden is the typical playmaker Boston has been without for a long time. He might be what they need to win the championship.