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James Harden expands his trade list because he has no real leverage

Things are looking ... well not up, for James Harden.

Things are looking … well not up, for James Harden.
Image: Getty Images

James Harden wants out of the world curated just for him.

He called the Houston Rockets the ‘Knicks of the South,’ he partied maskless for days in Las Vegas, and then he finally showed up to training camp on Tuesday, needing six consecutive negative COVID-19 tests before he could join the team on the floor, which he doesn’t want to do.

After initially requesting a trade to the Brooklyn Nets, Harden added the Philadelphia 76ers to his wishlist,. And on Thursday morning, he added the Miami Heat and Milwaukee Bucks, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Adding to the Heat portion of the report was Greg Sylvander of 5 Reasons Sports, who said the team is unwilling to include Tyler Herro in a Harden package, for now.

And according to Charania’s report, the Rockets want Kevin Durant or Kyrie Irving in return.

“The Houston Rockets have no interest in a trade package from the Brooklyn Nets for James Harden unless it includes either Kevin Durant or Kyrie Irving. Brooklyn’s trade package for Harden is widely believed to be some combination of Jarrett Allen, Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie, and future first-round picks. The Rockets are seeking a young star and numerous draft assets for Harden. Both Durant and Irving are signed through 2022 and committed to the Nets in the 2019 offseason,” from RealGM via The Athletic.

Of course Harden has to expand his list. Along with a 15 percent trade kicker, he has three years and over $131 million left on his deal, with the final year being a near $47-million player option. He doesn’t hold the leverage he thinks he does by keeping this particular franchise hostage. For eight years, Daryl Morey’s Harden-led Rockets were competitive. For about five or six, they were contenders.

In 2013, they signed Dwight Howard after that one infamous season with the Los Angeles Lakers, coming off seven consecutive All-Star appearances. In 2014, they traded for all-time glue guy Trevor Ariza, who was instrumental in the Washington Wizards’ first playoff series win in nine years, shooting 48 percent from the field and over 44 percent from three in the postseason. In 2016, they hired the league’s most exciting offensive coach, Mike D’Antoni, to employ the most boring style of play catered to Harden, making him the most ball-centric, usage-heavy (and depending on who you ask, least watchable) star in the NBA ever since. In 2017, they traded for Chris Paul, had the best record in the league, and blew that game.

After losing to the Golden State Warriors again in 2019, Harden infamously said, “I know what we need to do,” which may or may not have led to the team adding Russell Westbrook for Paul that summer, the same Westbrook they just flipped last week for John Wall after reports circulated about Harden preferring Wall over Russ.

As a star, you literally can’t ask for anything more than the treatment Harden has received from Houston since arriving in 2012. On one hand, you can’t blame him for wanting to leave Tilman Fertitta. But he had to expand his list because stylistically, he’s the most polarizing star guard in the league. The Rockets are doing the Nets a favor by making that deal difficult because Durant, Irving, and Harden wouldn’t work. Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, and Harden could, but wouldn’t you want to keep your young core and develop Tyler Herro how you’d like instead of acquiring this firmly entrenched and fully-formed veteran? (Though, that would probably be his best spot given the options.)

Giannis Anteokounmpo and Harden don’t even like each other, and Morey, new general manager of the 76ers, reportedly wants to keep Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid together. His list doesn’t include the Los Angeles Clippers in a theoretical Paul George/Harden swap, but it’s only a matter of time before that possibility gains steam in this climate.

But as talented as Harden is, it doesn’t appear to make sense for any ready-made program to swing for the fences yet, especially amid the COVID-19 variable for this forthcoming season. Teams are better off waiting, and for now, Harden’s better off just showing up.

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