No, the Miami Heat do not need to trade for James Harden right now

Where will James Harden end up next year?

Where will James Harden end up next year?
Photo: Getty Images

Citing loyalty, Giannis Antetokounmpo found 228 million reasons to remain with the Milwaukee Bucks for the next five seasons.

So naturally, James Harden to Miami trended almost immediately after the news broke… even if it was labeled as “politics.”

After Harden’s trade request was initially reported, the narrative from many has been that the Miami Heat should not only make the deal, but they should absolutely include Tyler Herro, whom they don’t want to part with, according to Greg Sylvander of 5 Reasons Sports. We’ve covered this trade from three different perspectives, most recently suggesting that the Houston Rockets’ Harden problem doesn’t need solving at the moment. For the Heat, this isn’t something they need to act on right now either, if ever at all.

There are legitimate basketball reasons to refrain from dismantling your roster to acquire Harden, as great as he is. However, an under-discussed one arose yesterday from Yaron Weitzman, author of the Philadelphia 76ers-centric book “Tanking To The Top,” and a former Bleacher Report NBA writer. Weitzman reported that the Rockets have asked for three first-round draft selections, along with Ben Simmons, in exchange for the troubled, bearded scoring champion.

Simmons is easily the best player the Rockets could receive in a possible Harden deal right now. This leaves the Heat — who will not include Jimmy Butler or Bam Adebayo, let alone Herro — in a position where they’ll have to move heaven, Earth, hell, Mars, and South Beach in a deal with Houston. Purely speculating, but conventional wisdom suggests that a Heat package would include something in the vicinity of Herro, Duncan Robinson, Kendrick Nunn, Andre Iguodala, Kelly Olynyk, and multiple first round picks. Iguodala and Olynyk purely as expiring deals to make the salaries match. You may also need KZ Okpala or 2020 first-round pick Precious Achiuwa, given that the Heat’s current array of first-rounders aren’t but so attractive, and the Rockets’ generally (and justifiably) steep asking price.

Sure, it would award Miami the league’s best big three, but it would also do away with the young core, which helped aid them to the NBA Finals a few months ago. As Dan Le Batard often points out on his show, trading for the disgruntled star is an old-Heat adage. They did it for Alonzo Mourning in 1995, using Glen Rice, Khalid Reeves, Matt Geiger, and a first. And they did it, most famously, in 2004, acquiring Shaquille O’Neal from the Los Angeles Lakers for the beloved young nucleus of Caron Butler and Lamar Odom, along with veteran Brian Grant, as well as one first and one second-round pick. Even that version of Shaq wouldn’t haul nearly as much as what a modern-day Harden would, and the Rockets know that. The Rockets also recognize that despite Harden’s wish to move, they have the leverage in this situation, not him.

Although the O’Neal trade obviously helped lead to a 2006 NBA Championship, and it’s also possible that a Butler-Harden-Adebayo-led unit would elevate them above all in the Eastern Conference … but they just did that without him, and that’s the difference. In 2004, the Heat were a 42-40 team coming off a second-round playoff exit led by Odom, Eddie Jones, and a rookie named Dwyane Wade. Say what you want about the bubble — truthfully, it’s probably more impressive they accomplished what they did given the circumstances, not less — but the Heat managed to get to the Finals, allegedly without a top-10 player, depending on who you ask about Butler. (Adebayo is nearing that conversation as well.)

As opposed to blowing up a considerable portion of their roster, most of whom are improving anyway, the Heat should stay where they are. They still have cap space heading into 2021, and to be honest, Antetokounmpo isn’t a seamless fit next to Butler and Adebayo the way say, Kawhi Leonard is, and he’s a free agent in 2021, as of now. (Here are the others.) Harden stylistically has been playing ‘Harden-ball,” as ESPN’s Zach Lowe labels it, for years. Would he suddenly evolve to play the Heat’s style, or could you develop Herro and other young pieces to fit into your system as you have been?

Herro may never be as good as Harden, but on Miami, he doesn’t need to be for the team to be title contenders. He just has to keep improving.

Besides, even if it isn’t this, the Heat will do something at some point that’ll make sense. They landed Jimmy Butler without cap space, after all. They still have tradeable players and salary on the roster that aren’t Butler, Adebayo, Herro or even Robinson, who it appears they also want to keep. Nunn, Olynyk, and a first were an obvious trade package in a potential move in this past abbreviated off-season, and there’s still time for the Heat to do something between now and March, even if it’s a short-term fix to maintain free agency contendership in 2021. 

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