Pair that with the team’s recent blockbuster trade history, and a disgruntled Houston Rockets superstar being on the market, and it’s no surprise NBA insiders have linked Toronto to James Harden. The latest to do so was ESPN’s Brian Windhorst. “The Raptors are almost in the same spot that they were two years ago [when they made the Leonard trade],” Windhorst said during an appearance on The Lowe Post podcast. “They have good players. They’re a good team. There’s probably seven teams in the Eastern Conference who could get the whiteboard out and convince themselves that they’re getting to the Conference Finals. “…I actually think the Raptors are a strong candidate to do this again. Whether or not they could execute it, whether or not they could bring themselves to do it [we’ll see].”
The Houston Rockets -- who have seen the ransom of assets that players such as Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday got on the trade market with only one season remaining on their contracts -- have set and maintained a high asking price for Harden, who has two seasons and more than $90 million remaining on his deal.
It is not a coincidence that a number of teams such as the Celtics, 76ers, Heat, Nets and Raptors -- teams that are in the "good not great" zone -- have at least made a courtesy call to the Rockets, sources said. Even the Bucks, sources said, at least had an internal conversation about it and ran it past Giannis Antetokounmpo before deciding not to get involved. They had to; with the current landscape, Harden's eventual destination is on the mind of everyone in this tightly packed race.
The Los Angeles Lakers and LA Clippers might see themselves at the top of the contender list, but there are teams around them that have been dancing on the Harden periphery. The Portland Trail Blazers reportedly are monitoring, and so are the Nuggets, who have interest in getting involved in a deal even if they don't end up with Harden, sources said. There could be more if the situation plays out a little.
NBA Central: Report: The Houston Rockets would "probably want" both Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson in a James Harden deal. Barry Jackson: Am told Rockets want significantly more than that.
The Denver Nuggets have interest in participating in a multi-team trade with the Houston Rockets even if they don't end up acquiring James Harden. The Rockets are known to be targeting Michael Porter Jr. as a young player with All-Star potential. It is not known what type of return the Nuggets would seek if they included Porter. The Nuggets have had interest in Jrue Holiday and Bradley Beal in recent months.
The Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors have joined the Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets and Miami Heat in making a "courtesy call" to the Houston Rockets on a James Harden trade, sources tell Brian Windhorst of ESPN.
The Milwaukee Bucks even had an internal conversation and ran it past Giannis Antetokounmpo before deciding not to pursue Harden at all. There are approximately seven teams in the East that can realistically talk themselves into having an opportunity to reach the Conference Finals, which puts the possibility of a Harden trade for one of them a balance of power shifting move.
Brian Windhorst on James Harden being traded to Philadelphia: Right now, at 3 and 1 and Embiid and Simmons playing like this, I would say they're farther away from a Harden trade than they were two weeks ago.'
As I reported on Dec. 17, the Sixers went into the regular season committed to seeing what they had here with Simmons, Joel Embiid and all these new shooters that now surround them. From there, sources say, the results, chemistry, perceived ceiling and the like would all be factored in when it came to what might come next on the Harden front.
While rival executives have been very skeptical that the Nets make a serious push for Harden, Spencer Dinwiddie’s torn ACL is just the kind of thing that might change how GM Sean Marks sees his roster. Yes, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving have looked amazing together so far. But is that enough? A third team would likely need to be involved, but the loss of the scoring depth that came with Dinwiddie changes things here in terms of possible need. Brooklyn is 2-2 so far, with Durant and Irving having rested in Monday’s loss to Memphis.
Milwaukee has no plans to pursue Harden, who sources say isn’t seen as a culture fit for their group.
If the Nuggets were to make a Harden move, rival executives anticipate that Michael Porter Jr. would be the likely target for the Rockets. The Denver Post has reported that Murray will not be included in any such deal, and that Porter Jr. has been the focus of Rockets-Nuggets talks that — as of the Dec. 22 report — had not gained traction.
Stone traded Russ shortly after. Harden is now looking for the next rescue from the flooded Rockets. The list of teams where he might end up grows and shifts daily—it’s this NBA season’s favorite topic. But many insiders believe Philadelphia is most likely. Harden wants to be there, Morey loves Harden so much he was just fined $50,000 for an automated Tweet praising Harden. And the 76ers have Ben Simmons, the kind of young star Stone seeks in return.
Would you rather have 24-year-old Ben Simmons, who might yet learn to shoot 3s, or 31-year-old Harden who showed up to training camp late and not in peak shape but still managed a cool 78 points and 25 assists over his first two games? It’s a lively NBA debate. Whatever Morey’s true preference, Stone almost certainly knows it. They spent years of friendship—including carpooling to work—talking about basketball, advanced analytics, and assessing players. As Rockets sources point out, Stone is steeped in Morey’s thoughts on almost every player in the league, and vice versa.
Recently, Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie suffered a partially torn ACL which now rules him out for the remainder of the season. Nonetheless, there weren’t any advancements made in trade talks as Dinwiddie was previously seen as a trade piece that could be dealt away if a Harden deal was to be done in the future. Via ESPN’s Zach Lowe on his podcast: “Spencer Dinwiddie’s health did not make or break the Nets’ ability to get James Harden,” he said. “It’s unclear to me, frankly, if those teams have had anything resembling a serious conversation about James Harden. Let’s make that clear. I don’t sense that there’s been hardly any traction there at all. And maybe the way the Nets started had them thinking ‘Why are we messing with this?’”
The Brooklyn Nets have been on James Harden's trade list, but there appears to have been very little in the way of discussions with the Houston Rockets. Spencer Dinwiddie has been linked with a potential trade for Harden, but he was ruled out for the season on Monday with a partially torn ACL.
"Spencer Dinwiddie's health did not make or break the Nets' ability to get James Harden," said Zach Lowe on his podcast. "It's unclear to me, frankly, if those teams have had anything resembling a serious conversation about James Harden. Let's make that clear. I don't sense that there's been hardly any traction there at all. And maybe the way the Nets started had them thinking 'Why are we messing with this?'"
When McCollum heard about the report, it didn’t take long for him to do the math. “What am I supposed to think?” McCollum asked rhetorically. “I play the same position as James. If there is a trade for James, who is going to be in the trade?”
McCollum shot down any notion that playing Harden while the rumors swirled added any motivation to his game Saturday. “Look, I know I’m nice, man. I don’t need to psyche myself out to go against one of the best players in the world,” McCollum said. “Like, James is really good. Regardless of what James does in his spare time, James is really fucking good at basketball … like, really good. So I don’t need to get extra sleep to go guard a guy that averages 35. You know what I mean?”
Lillard and McCollum don’t just coexist on the court. They are close off it. They vacation together. Workout together. Heck, even their mothers are close. There is a depth and transparency to their relationship that is unmistakable. It’s why Neil Olshey, the Blazers’ president of basketball operations, has so staunchly rejected the idea of trading McCollum. Years ago, when asked about breaking up the backcourt, Olshey broke from his strict policy of not addressing player contracts or status. He countered with his own question: Why would he break up one of the best backcourts in the NBA?
Olshey and Harden have remained close since Harden’s youth, when both lived in Los Angeles. Olshey was an assistant coach at Artesia High, where Harden later attended after Olshey left, and when Olshey was hired by agent Arn Tellem to be a workout specialist for draft prospects, he and Harden forged a friendship that hasn’t wavered. Whether the Olshey/Harden connection is strong enough for Olshey to consider breaking up the Blazers’ backcourt buddies, and if so, whether Portland has enough assets to satisfy Houston are questions that nobody is answering.
McCollum shot down any notion that playing Harden while the rumors swirled added any motivation to his game Saturday. “Look, I know I’m nice, man. I don’t need to psyche myself out to go against one of the best players in the world,” McCollum said. “Like, James is really good. Regardless of what James does in his spare time, James is really f------ good at basketball … like, really good. So I don’t need to get extra sleep to go guard a guy that averages 35. You know what I mean?”
Whether the Olshey/Harden connection is strong enough for Olshey to consider breaking up the Blazers’ backcourt buddies, and if so, whether Portland has enough assets to satisfy Houston are questions that nobody is answering. In the meantime, Lillard and McCollum on Saturday did what they have been doing for years: showing how and why two stars can co-exist. “The foundation of us being connected as a backcourt is our friendship,” Lillard said. “Me wanting the best for him and him wanting the best for me, and him supporting me and me supporting him. I just think we have a balance.”
Adrian Wojnarowski: The Rockets know that they still have time on their side, but it's not a healthy environment right now in Houston. And and they know the sooner they make a trade the better. They just know they have to make the right one.
Kristian Winfield: Steve Nash says he has no communication with Sean Marks as it pertains to a James Harden trade. Says he’s happy with the group of guys the Nets have right now.
Jason Quick: For what it’s worth: Neil Olshey, the Blazers president of basketball operations, has a close relationship with Harden.
James Harden’s holiday wish list has grown longer yet again, it seems. Such is life when you’re a disgruntled NBA star who’s hoping Santa leaves a trade of your liking under the tree this year. Sources told The Athletic that the Houston Rockets guard has recently deemed the Boston Celtics and Portland Trail Blazers among his preferred destinations.
When asked if Harden's behavior would be a red flag in trading for the former MVP, team executives told ESPN they thought it was selfish and reckless but would not prevent a deal. Teams have already done their homework when it comes to Harden both on and off the court. One NBA executive told ESPN that the team had hired a private investigator to do a thorough background check, treating the process of gathering information on him like it would a draft prospect.
The Nuggets were one of numerous teams the Houston Rockets called to gauge interest about a potential James Harden trade. Those talks didn’t gain any traction, however, a league source told The Denver Post. Houston’s interest centered firmly on Nuggets small forward Michael Porter Jr., the source said. Those talks haven’t materialized into anything substantial.
Any potential deal would have to include Gary Harris or Will Barton, if not both, to match salaries, which would leave the Nuggets extremely thin on the wing. As rumors circulated about a potential deal to acquire the disgruntled superstar, another league source told The Post that Nuggets point guard Jamal Murray was never included in any discussion.
The initial rumblings, at the start of Harden’s standoff with the Houston Rockets, suggested that a trade was unlikely to materialize until closer to the March 25 deadline. The Rockets were determined to first see if they could repair their relationship with Harden, then to leverage the two guaranteed seasons left on his contract on the trade market.
More current rumblings indicate that tension within the Rockets is mounting each day Harden goes untraded. The Athletic illuminated some of that tension with a report Tuesday that Harden recently threw a ball in practice at Jae’Sean Tate, his new rookie teammate. Both sides now want to move on as quickly as possible. It’s time.
I still regard Philadelphia as the most likely landing spot for Harden, largely because Ben Simmons most closely fits the description of the sort of building-block player Houston is holding out for in return. I’m also told that the familiarity between Daryl Morey and his Rockets successor, Rafael Stone, will outweigh any lingering ill feelings from Morey’s move to Philadelphia as president of basketball operations less than two weeks after he walked away from his Houston contract. I know Morey has said that Simmons is going nowhere. I also know Morey made similar statements about Chris Paul before he traded Paul to Oklahoma City for Russell Westbrook.
The Heat let it be known this week that they are not actively pursuing Harden, which is a blow for the Rockets because Miami is one of those fearless teams with the oft-proven gumption to embrace an enigma like Harden in spite of the various red flags. The Sixers and the Nets, though, may not be the only other options: In recent days, it has become known that Toronto, Boston and Denver have also had exploratory talks with Houston.
The Nuggets aren’t trading Jamal Murray, a league source told The Denver Post, as rumors circulate about Denver’s potential interest in acquiring Houston’s disgruntled superstar James Harden.
But a league source said Tuesday that Murray would not be traded. His transcendent postseason run in Orlando reaffirmed why the Nuggets gave him a max contract extension last summer and underscored why they view him as a franchise cornerstone, along with center Nikola Jokic.
On the Nuggets, that would likely only leave Michael Porter Jr. as a centerpiece of a deal, along with salary filler to match Harden’s remaining two years (plus a player option), assuming the Rockets were interested.
Ira Winderman: Per source, Heat no longer are engaging Rockets when it comes to Harden. Was told conversation never was more than cursory, but that, of course, always is a matter of perspective. Heat made clear on eve of 2018-19 season they were out of Jimmy Butler talks for that season.
Anthony Chiang: According to a source, the Heat is no longer involved in trade talks for Rockets star guard James Harden. Source said there was an initial call put in by the Heat to check in with the Rockets on the Harden situation, but it didn't go far. Heat opens the regular season Wednesday.
Tim Reynolds: The Miami Heat are not actively pursuing James Harden at this time, AP is told by a source with direct knowledge of the matter. There was preliminary talk between the teams; I would imagine almost every team had those with the Rockets.
While Wojnarowski doesn’t get into any specifics about what Philadelphia would want, it seems reasonable to assume that if they’re being asked to part with Simmons and draft picks, the 76ers would seek at least one more player from the Rockets — perhaps someone like P.J. Tucker. It doesn’t sound like Houston would be enthusiastic about that scenario though, per Wojnarowski, who says the Rockets will likely want Simmons “plus a bunch more assets” for just Harden. “You saw (Sixers president of basketball operations) Daryl Morey come out yesterday and say, ‘We’re not trading Ben Simmons,'” Wojnarowski said. “Well, I certainly don’t think they’re trading Ben Simmons just in a deal that looks like it’s straight up with some picks for James Harden. I think they’re going to want a lot more than James Harden. That might not be a deal that’s available to the Sixers.”
With all the drama swirling around James Harden and the Houston Rockets, it’s impossible not to talk about Harden, and whether the franchise will trade him. That apparently goes for play-by-play man Bill Worrell. During the Rockets’ preseason win over the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday night, he watched as new addition Christian Wood took a rebound coast-to-coast for a score and shouted out, “Who needs James Harden?”
Do you think that's a problem that James Harden, the superstar player for the Houston Rockets has not yet talked to his GM? Zach Lowe: If it's true, it's a problem. I have actually heard that they have a pretty good relationship dating back years now. So I'm kind of surprised if that's the case. Maybe he just means he hasn't talked to him in the last week when he was, you know, MIA from camp and reporting and all that.
But if you thought the Bucks culture was picky, the Heat ecosystem is on a different level altogether. So when it comes to this question of whether Riles, longtime general manager Andy Elisburg and coach Erik Spoelstra might want to convert Harden into their world of discipline and dirty work, it’s safe to say there’s serious skepticism here from sources close to the situation. Especially considering Harden’s recent antics.
There was a time not so long ago when Giannis Antetokounmpo wasn’t comfortable recruiting other talents to come to town. But then, as we chronicled this week in our piece looking at his decision to sign the five-year supermax extension on Tuesday, that all changed. In this mini-offseason that just passed, he played a part in the Bucks’ pursuit of everyone from Jrue Holiday to Victor Oladipo to Bogdan Bogdanovic. So, is Harden now on that proverbial list? Bucks sources say no.
Harden, it seems, is not seen as a good fit for this Bucks culture that has been so carefully curated by Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, general manager Jon Horst, coach Mike Budenholzer and so many others. They are not expected to pursue him. And while no one can speak for Giannis in terms of his private view of Harden, there was plenty to ponder in the public domain already that suggested this would be a friction-filled superstar pairing…
Harden’s widely-reported dream of joining former teammate Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn seemed to make perfect Superteam sense when it was first revealed, but some rival executives who are tracking this situation closely have grown extremely skeptical of the Nets scenario ever transpiring. Irving, like Durant before him, downplayed the prospect of this happening during his media session on Monday.
The notion of a former MVP still in his prime being available would typically bring all 30 teams running, but the combination of Harden’s ball-dominant style, defensive reputation and personality appear to be tempering interest. Not to mention the fact that he spent the past eight seasons having his run of the place in Houston. “It just fucks up your whole organization,” said one high-ranking official from a team that has pondered the Harden possibility. “Harden is a terrific scorer, but not a champion,” said another front office executive. “He isn’t a two-way player and (he’s) hard to play with. …He is so used to getting his own way, I think there are concerns he can negatively affect a team’s culture.”
Ethan J. Skolnick: We can report at Five Reasons Sports — from multiple league sources — that the inclusion of Duncan Robinson is a major sticking point in the pursuit of Rockets guard James Harden. @5ReasonsSports @ClutchAdamNBA @GregSylvander
Shams Charania: The Philadelphia 76ers have made Ben Simmons available in some packages with the Houston Rockets for James Harden, sources tell @The Athletic @Stadium. Conversations aren't fluid as of now.
Several playoff-caliber teams in the Eastern and Western conferences tell ESPN that they're finding increased comfort in committing high-level trade assets in talks to acquire Harden. The Rockets have ongoing discussions on several fronts and have been communicating with Harden about those scenarios, sources said.
While the Sixers have signaled a willingness to include All-Star guard Ben Simmons in trade packages for Harden, those talks have come nowhere close to a deal, sources said. The Nets are limited by the Rockets' interest in their personnel, and likely would need a third team to emerge in talks, sources said. So far, the Rockets steep asking price of young players and pick hasn't moved any of their discussions into an advanced stage.
The notion of a former MVP still in his prime being available would typically bring all 30 teams running, but the combination of Harden’s ball-dominant style, defensive reputation and personality appear to be tempering interest. Not to mention the fact that he spent the past eight seasons having his run of the place in Houston.
“It just f---- up your whole organization,” said one high-ranking official from a team that has pondered the Harden possibility. “Harden is a terrific scorer, but not a champion,” said another front office executive. “He isn’t a two-way player and (he’s) hard to play with. …He is so used to getting his own way, I think there are concerns he can negatively affect a team’s culture.”
Harden’s widely-reported dream of joining former teammate Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn seemed to make perfect Superteam sense when it was first revealed, but some rival executives who are tracking this situation closely have grown extremely skeptical of the Nets scenario ever transpiring.
Yet even with all that relevant history, this is what matters even more in the moment on this front: Sources say the Sixers want to see what new coach Doc Rivers can do with this new roster and have no urgency to pay anything more than a discount-aisle price for Harden anytime soon. Translation: Two-time All-Star and third-team All-NBA selection Ben Simmons remains off-limits, and these next few weeks will be spent evaluating this revamped group.
History has shown us that no one ever really knows what Pat Riley is up to. That’s part of his genius, right? And as one interested executive put it, you can never put anything past him. But if you thought the Bucks culture was picky, the Heat ecosystem is on a different level altogether. So when it comes to this question of whether Riles, longtime general manager Andy Elisburg and coach Erik Spoelstra might want to convert Harden into their world of discipline and dirty work, it’s safe to say there’s serious skepticism here from sources close to the situation. Especially considering Harden’s recent antics.
Harden brushed off the suggestion that the trade rumors could be a distraction for the team. “Since I’ve been here there’s nothing that’s being said about it. … I’m just preparing for the season so that’s all that matters,” he said.
“If we exactly knew … where his head was, that I think would be good for everybody,” Silas said. “But we’re dealing in reality which is things change on a day-to-day basis. Things change on a game-by-game basis. And as I said before, my job is to coach this basketball team and make sure that the guys are put in the right position.”
Salman Ali: James Harden on what he was doing in Atlanta in Vegas during training camp: "I was just training." For what? "The start of the NBA season." Why in Atlanta and Vegas instead of Houston? "My personal trainers."
Melissa Rohlin: James Harden: "Right now, I'm just focused on being here."
But Houston has its heels dug in regarding Harden, refusing at this point to consider an offer unless it includes a young franchise cornerstone and a bundle of first-round picks and/or promising players on rookie deals. Sources say Harden, who had been singularly focused on trying to force his way to the Brooklyn Nets, has indicated to the Rockets that he would be agreeable to a trade to the 76ers or other select contenders.
Harden has pushed the Rockets to upgrade every offseason, saying he would want to be traded if they couldn't contend, sources said. And he had final say on things beyond just travel and practice schedules as well. He could call the shots on personnel moves, both on the roster and the coaching staff, a power he flexed to push for the firing of head coach Kevin McHale and departures of co-stars Dwight Howard and Chris Paul, sources said.
MULTIPLE ROCKETS OFFICIALS acknowledge that the entire organization has been "complicit" in the culture that has been created over the past eight years. "We knew who the boss of the organization was," a former Rockets assistant coach said. "That's just part of what the deal was when you go to Houston. The players, coaches, GM, owner all know. "I don't blame James. I blame the organization. It's not his fault. He did what they allowed him to do."
One of Paul's biggest beefs, sources said, was that Harden basically opted not to participate in the Rockets' offense when the ball wasn't in his hands, sometimes barely stepping over half court while spectating when Paul had the ball. Harden quickly tired of Paul barking about his concerns, which included lobbying coach Mike D'Antoni to implement more structure and movement in an offensive system that revolved around Harden's isolations, sources said.
Rockets management believed those issues could be ironed out and wanted to run it back with the Harden-Paul duo last season. Those plans changed as soon as Westbrook became available. Harden insisted the Rockets get the deal done, saying he'd demand a trade if they didn't find a way to bring his childhood friend and former OKC teammate to Houston, sources said. The Rockets paid a price that was considered steep at the time -- Paul, 2024 and 2026 first-round picks, and swap rights in 2021 and 2025.
Sources said Westbrook frequently expressed his displeasure during the season with not being able to "play my game," as he put it. There were questions about the Harden-Westbrook fit when they were pushing to play together again, including D'Antoni privately expressing his concerns, sources said.
Adrian Wojnarowski on James Harden: His focus remains on getting a trade out of Houston. And regardless of what John Wall has looked like or Boogie cousins early in the preseason, it's not going to impact his thinking. He's made that clear to the organization. Ramona Shelburne and I are told that that he's going to work with them here in the interim, until they find a trade, he's going to play, he's going to be there. He knows that if he becomes a problem with the team, it makes it harder to trade him because the team becomes limited perhaps in the kind of assets they can get back.
Adrian Wojnarowski: They have talked with the Sixers. But they've not gotten close to a deal with them. And listen, there are teams around the league who kicked the tires on it. But nobody who has kind of dove into this headfirst.
“I think you can now argue that Houston needs to hold tight until the offseason to move James because there will be far more competition for him,” one of the Western Conference executives told HoopsHype. “Contending teams that kept their powder dry plotting a run at Giannis and bad teams that can absorb him into a preponderance of cap space. I don’t see things changing significantly by the deadline, and the number is so hard to aggregate that good teams don’t really have enough fungible money. If they get to the deadline and are in contention, you are less likely to throw a bunch of deals at them to stack up to Harden.”
"At the end of the day, he's going to do what's best for him and the organization is going to do what's best for them also," said point guard John Wall (15 points, three assists), who expressed excitement about pairing with Harden after arriving in a trade for Russell Westbrook two weeks ago. "The most important thing is when we step on that floor, we step into practice, we're focusing ourselves on basketball. "I don't try to ask him about that because that's his personal business. All I worry about is what we can do to make this Rockets team the best that we can be while everybody is here and move forward with that."
Salman Ali: James Harden updates from @Adrian Wojnarowski: -Houston isn't interested in the Nets package for Harden -If Brooklyn wants Harden, they'd have to pursue a three-way deal to net Houston a blue chip prospect -Philadelphia remains the natural trading partner for Houston because of Ben Simmons pic.twitter.com/XuQP8WoSiX
Salman Ali: Woj on Rockets: “This organization has consulted with James Harden on everything for years. He’s had as much say as any star player in the league has had with how an organization is run, who his teammates were going to be, and that would’ve continued if he wanted to be there.” pic.twitter.com/vcTWlAMyPt
Where will James Harden be playing after the trade deadline? 1. Houston Rockets: 6 T2. Brooklyn Nets: 1 T2. Philadelphia 76ers: 1 While it's clear Harden would like to be traded, making a move is far easier said than done, at least in the eyes of rival scouts and executives. Harden's large contract -- and interest in extending that contract with only a handful of teams -- makes it difficult to match salaries, especially if the Rockets maintain their demands for a package of potential young stars and a boatload of future first-round picks.
July 6, 2022 | 6:01 pm EDT Update
Marc Stein: The expectation, I’m told, is that Jalen Brunson’s new deal to join the Knicks is unlikely to be finalized today as part of the Day 1 wave of signings and trades after the NBA moratorium was lifted. More on Brunson and a slew of around-the-league topics: marcstein.substack.com/p/more-nba-fre…
Ryan Miller: Rudy Gobert on why he thinks he was traded: “The window for winning is not always big. … I think the organization felt like we had maybe past that window. … I think they just felt like with the assets that they could get with me, it was better for them to go that way.”