Can Bob Myers find a way to bring James Harden to the Bay?
In November, James Harden told the Houston Rockets he wanted out.
Specifically, the 2018 MVP requested to be dealt to the Brooklyn Nets to link up with his former teammate Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
Three weeks before the 2020-21 season begins and fresh off a second-round playoff exit, the Rockets are experiencing turbulence. Days after the team’s bubble stay ended, so did GM Daryl Morey and head coach Mike D’Antoni’s respective tenures with the franchise.
Russell Westbrook — for whom the Rockets gave up Chris Paul and two first-round picks — requested a change of scenery, too.
In October, Fertitta promoted Rafael Stone to general manager and named Stephen Silas as head coach. In his first free agency, Silas traded Robert Covington to the Portland Trail Blazers, and signed bigs Christian Wood and DeMarcus Cousins, among other moves.
At the moment, though, Harden (and Westbrook) is still in Houston.
The Golden State Warriors, looking to return to championship contention, were evidently one of the teams closely monitoring the shake-ups happening in H-Town. According to The Athletic’s Shams Charania, Warriors president of basketball operations, Bob Myers called the Rockets new GM about Harden’s availability.
“You had several teams inquire,” Charania said on Complex’s “Load Management” podcast. “The Warriors at one point made a call in for James Harden.”
With three years and about $133 million left on his contract (including a $47 million player-option for 2022-23), the Rockets, smartly, would rather keep Harden as a member of their franchise than acquiesce to his narrow trade demand.
“But at the end of the day, if you don’t have the requisite pieces, it’s a moot point. Houston has the leverage. He’s under contract for two more years,” Charania added.
Houston may also be going full-Larry David mode and hanging onto Harden out of spite. Either way, it doesn’t seem like talks between the Warriors and Rockets got very far down the road.
“Houston was open to hearing out different offers and proposals,” Charania said, “but it never even progressed to that point.”
According to Charania, Myers called Stone before Thompson’s season-ending Achilles injury.
“I heard that one a little bit before the injury to Klay,” Charania said. “I don’t even believe an offer was made. I think it was just an inquiry like, ‘We have a major potential offer here if you guys want to discuss.’
Hypothetically, pairing Harden with the Splash Brothers would have been offensively devastating for the rest of the league, and potentially reminiscent — thought not as versatile or defensively imposing — of the Warriors championship super-teams featuring Durant.
Now, without Thompson for 2020-21, Golden State could legitimately use another scoring option like Harden (or Bradley Beal or Blake Griffin, for instance) to flank Steph Curry and co.
Instead, Myers pivoted and acquired 24-year old wing Kelly Oubre Jr. to pair with Andrew Wiggins.
If a Harden deal had occurred before the Nov. 18 draft, the no. 2 overall pick — which ended up netting the Warriors center James Wiseman — would have surely been included.
Still, if things continue to unravel in Houston and the Rockets eventually explore deals for Harden — and look beyond Brooklyn, which they will — the Warriors could offer an intriguing package, especially if Oubre Jr. and Wiseman play well for Steve Kerr and the Dubs.
Together, the salaries of Wiggins ($29 million) and Oubre Jr. ($15 million) roughly match Harden’s ($42 million) for 2020-21, rendering a trade financially feasible. Green will earn $22 million in 2020-21, should the Dubs consider adding him to a blockbuster with Houston. Six-year veteran center Kevan Looney makes $5.2 million, and the Rockets would surely be interested in sophomore forward Eric Paschall coming off a promising rookie campaign. On top of that, the Rockets would certainly ask for Wiseman, Minnesota’s 2021 pick (which Golden State owns), another future first (2024), and multiple pick swaps.
It’s workable. Of course, it would require Fertitta to send his disgruntled superstar to the team that has repeatedly defeated his in the playoffs during their recent dynasty — a notion Fertitta could be personally unwilling to entertain.
On Wednesday, Myers politely deflected the question when asked about Charania’s report during his media availability.
“No, I’m not going to comment on everything that’s written about us, true or untrue,” Myers said. “I’m just not going to do that. I appreciate you have to ask, but if every call we made or didn’t make, I had to comment … I don’t think it’s productive on my side.”
“I understand why you ask these questions. Very fair to ask.”
Whether Harden and Curry could gel — or dominate — together is a legitimate question, especially in the playoffs. Both players are among the most ball-dominant players in league history — Harden ranks 8th all-time in career usage rate, while Curry ranks 26th — though Curry could more easily slide into Thompson’s catch-and-shoot role for 2020-21 (Harden is a legendarily terrible off-ball mover).
On the other hand, that role would limit Curry’s effectiveness as a creative on-ball maestro, as well as the team’s perimeter defense.
Looking beyond the 2020-21 season, a Harden acquisition would slide Thompson to the three and place a particularly heavy defensive burden on the guy coming off two consecutive season-length injuries. Presumably, the Warriors could coach up Harden’s defense as well as any organization.
Off the court, like Brooklyn, the Bay is extremely beard-friendly.