James Harden isn’t going to win an NBA title with the Rockets. A move to the 76ers could help him finally secure a championship ring.
The chances of the Rockets actually trading James Harden this offseason are extremely low. That doesn’t moving him wouldn’t be in the best interest of both Harden and his current team. A high-profile trade with the 76ers could benefit both franchises.
Daryl Morey’s decision to “step down” as the Rockets General Manager should be sounding alarm bells for Harden. Houston gave up a fortune in future draft capital to acquire Russell Westbrook to serve as the team’s No. 2 star. It seems likely that part of the reason for Morey’s decision to leave is his concern about the team’s ability to build for the future.
The lack of draft capital combined with the team’s massive payroll means Houston must soldier forward with roughly the same roster they have currently. That group wasn’t good enough to be a legitimate Western Conference title contender. It’s hard to imagine that changing in a positive way as Harden and Westbrook advance in age.
The easy decision for Houston’s front office is to simply run things back next season and hope for a better result. Harden’s ability to dominate a single game offensively will always give the Rockets a puncher’s chance to win any playoff game. That doesn’t make this team a title contender though. The most likely outcome for the Rockets next season is to finish somewhere between the No. 4 and No. 6 seed in the Western Conference. They might win a postseason series, but they’ll enter Round 2 as heavy underdogs.
That’s why the Rockets should strongly consider making a hard pivot. In a perfect world, they’d keep Harden and offload Westbrook and his giant salary. The stark reality is that the league views Westbrook as a negative value at the moment. Houston would need to part with additional assets to offload his mammoth deal.
The only real way for Houston to reshape their future is to deal Harden. Parting with a superstar of his caliber is always painful. Even at 31 years of age, he’s still playing at an elite level. The Rockets do need to consider just how long he can continue to produce as one of the league’s top 10 players.
The short answer to that question is that the clock is ticking. The Rockets will likely wait to deal Harden until he demands a trade or his performance really drops off a cliff. The smart thing for the organization to do would be to move him now while his value is still sky-high.
Why would the Rockets trade James Harden for Ben Simmons?
The 76ers should be first in line to acquire Harden if there’s even a rumor of him becoming available in a trade. The arrival of Doc Rivers as the team’s new head coach isn’t going to fix the awkward construction of Philadelphia’s roster. Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid still don’t fit together as franchise cornerstones on the court.
A trade centering around Simmons and Harden could do a lot for both franchises. The 76ers would immediately become one of the favorites in the Eastern Conference. Harden isn’t necessarily a perfect fit with Embiid, but his arrival would immediately solve the 76ers’ issues generating half-court offense. Harden might have to cede some shot attempts to Embiid to make the marriage work, but that should actually benefit him as he enters his mid-30s.
The fit isn’t quite as good in Houston. Simmons and Westbrook are both non-shooters. Building a quality offense around that pair just isn’t going to happen for the Rockets. This move would boil down to a simple asset play. Adding Simmons, a 24-year-old potential All-NBA player, would give Houston someone to build around for the future. That’s something the franchise sorely lacks at the moment.
The bottom line is that Harden needs someone to rescue him from the mediocre roster the Rockets have assembled around him. The 76ers should be the team trying to capitalize on Houston’s uncertainty.