In case you missed it, Wednesday brought yet another stage in the demise of the Houston Rockets, and seemingly pushed them further and further away from beating the Golden State Warriors, as they’ve tried so hard to do over the last half a decade.
Earlier in the offseason one of the team’s architects, Mike D’Antoni, left. Then the other architect, Daryl Morey, also left.
And on Wednesday, reports surfaced that Russell Westbrook was asking to be traded.
It’s unclear where that leaves James Harden. He could go back to the single-star lifestyle that he seems to enjoy, even though it hasn’t gotten him very far in the playoffs. And indeed, The Athletic reported that he’s committed to Houston despite the happenings with his fellow MVP-winning teammate.
Houston's James Harden remains committed to the Rockets and is "locked in" for the season, sources tell @KellyIkoNBA and me.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) November 12, 2020
But there have also been reports that Harden is dissatisfied with the direction of the team, which surely won’t be helped by the Westbrook news. And there have even been reports that Houston’s front office was having a difficult time contact the face of their franchise.
It’s not unrealistic to think Harden might reverse course and ask for a trade. It’s also not unrealistic to think that Houston, having lost the architects of the team and one of their stars, might hit the reset button and trade Harden of their own volition.
Enter the Warriors.
Should Houston pursue a trade, Golden State potentially has one of the more interesting packages. If the Rockets are intrigued by Andrew Wiggins — no sure thing, but Wiggins is still just a 25-year-old hyper-athletic former No. 1 pick who has averaged about 20 points per game for his career — then the Warriors could put together an enticing trade package.
Wiggins plus Kevon Looney makes the salary work, and the trade doable. The Warriors have some intriguing young players, like Eric Paschall and Jordan Poole, and more importantly some big draft pieces: the No. 2 pick this year, and the Minnesota Timberwolves lottery pick in 2021. They could put together a fairly compelling offer, especially since the Rockets will be in panic mode to add more draft picks after sending two to the Oklahoma City Thunder when they traded for Westbrook.
But two questions would remain: would the Rockets make a deal with the Warriors? And would the Warriors actually want to add Harden?
To the first point, it’s unclear. Houston clearly hated Golden State these last few years, but how much of that was Morey? And once a team starts to rebuild, do they really care about helping their rivals? If Houston trades Harden they won’t be competing with the Warriors anymore, so what does it matter if he’s in a Dubs jersey?
To the second point ... Harden isn’t the natural fit that Kevin Durant was. But, rivalry aside, he and Curry have a good relationship, and the Warriors (read: Joe Lacob) are forever in the mode of searching for an overwhelming amount of talent.
Harden doesn’t play a style of basketball that is a seamless fit with Steve Kerr’s vision (but neither did Durant). He would force Klay Thompson to the small forward position (but Thompson’s injury and age might make that happen eventually anyway). He would take some shots out of Curry’s hands (but does Steph care?).
But perhaps the most important question: how would the Warriors fanbase react to Harden — a player they’ve mocked and yelled angrily at more than any other — joining forces with the Dubs?
It’s a question I’m very curious about. Perhaps morbidly curious.
It’s also a question we won’t ever know the answer to, because the Warriors absolutely will not trade for James Harden. I think. Maybe.