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Houston: What’s the rush?

Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

The Houston Rockets tumultuous offseason has seen owner Tilman Fertitta question the direction of his general manager; that general manager question if having to put up with the owner was all worth it (spoiler: it wasn’t); their longtime coach depart and now their two superstars both eyeing greener pastures.

The Rockets’ new decision-makers in GM Raphael Stone and coach Stephen Silas have inherited a mess. The Rockets are a science experiment gone wrong. With precious little young talent and draft capital, the cleanup promises to be long and potentially arduous.

That has led many to wonder if the Rockets would blow it all up, or run it back with perhaps some tweaks around the edges, despite Russell Westbrook openly pining for a trade and James Harden turning down the honour of being the NBA’s first ever $50 million man. In trading Robert Covington for draft picks, Stone has tipped his hand – the Rockets are looking to rebuild.

That will surely start with offloading Westbrook, which will be easier said than done. Russ still has value around the league – he was electric in the six weeks prior to the league wide shutdown – but his age (32), history of lower body injuries and his cumbersome contract ($132 million over the next three seasons) severely restricts his market. His athletically based crash-and-bash game isn’t expected age well, either. There have been whispers of Charlotte being interested in taking on Westbrook, but don’t expect them to give up too much outside of the cash savings of Nicolas Batum’s albatross of a deal and maybe a PJ Washington type.

Harden, meanwhile, hasn’t made an official trade request, by all accounts. That doesn’t mean he hasn’t flagged his intention via backdoor channels to play with Kyrie Irving (the two are close from their Team USA days) and former Thunder running mate and close friend Kevin Durant. That move would give Brooklyn a ready made contender (for all the talk of those three needing an extra basketball, rest assured they’ll find a way to make it work – there was similar talk about Boston’s Big 3 in 2007 and they turned our alright).

It would probably take a package along the lines of Caris Levert, Jarrett Allen, Taurean Prince, and some picks to make a deal work. That would give Brooklyn a legitimate claim to favouritism in the East. It would give Houston a potential star and a pair of excellent role players to build around. But it has to be asked: Houston; what’s the rush?

Trading away an MVP candidate almost never ends well. Let’s be clear. Harden is contracted to the Rockets for the next two seasons with a player option for a third – they don’t have to trade him right now. Stone can take a season and try to sell Harden on his own vision for the franchise in full knowledge that he can still, if need be, deal The Beard at the end of next season.

That said, those extra years on Harden’s current deal does give Houston a little more leverage at the negotiation table: ‘Trade for our man, and you’re getting him for possibly three seasons’. The opportunity to acquire a perennial MVP candidate with time on the clock doesn’t happen every day. If Harden is hell bent on leaving Texas, then ripping off the band-aid is probably for the best. So….back to the Brooklyn deal.

As much as Harden might have his heart set on the Nets, every contender and semi-contender should be putting in a call to Stone. The Bucks have made their move in trading for Jrue Holiday, as have the Suns with Chris Paul. Pat Riley is notoriously aggressive in the pursuit of a perfect roster; would he dare trade Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro? Former general manager Daryl Morey must have floated the idea of trading for Harden to his new chums in Philadelphia. Would Boston put Gordon Hayward, Marcus Smart and some of their 1st round picks on the table? OKC could give up Steven Adams, Danilo Gallinari (in a sign and trade) and some draft picks – they have few to spare, after all. If Rudy Gobert won’t settle for anything less than the supermax, does that open up a trade with Utah? Toronto could go all in with a Siakam/Powell package. And then there’s the looming spectre in NorCal – Golden State.

Remember when the timing broke juuuust right for the Warriors to snap up Kevin Durant with an unprecedented cap spike, whilst Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green were all on below market deals? Well, it just so happens that the very much championship chasing Warriors own the #2 pick in the draft, as well as the very juicy Minnesota 1st rounder in next years loaded draft. They also have enough trade exceptions and an unwanted player with the salary to make the numbers work. Some team have all the luck, don’t they?

Golden State could make an offer that could trump all the others. If they offered Andrew Wiggins – still only 25 years old and a well of untapped potential – and used some of their trade exceptions, the money adds up. Throw in the #2 pick and the Wolves 2021 pick and that surely bests Levert, Allen, and Prince, no matter what picks the Nets can offer. The Warriors were not afraid to piss off the entire basketball world by signing Durant. They won’t be scared of the optics of taking in Harden.

Let’s not pretend that the Warriors are actively pursuing any sort of deal, or even that Houston are out there spruiking the wares of their superstar. With all the talk of a single destination should Harden be traded, it’s worth considering that there are plenty of options available, should the Rockets be so inclined.


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