3 big reasons why winning a James Harden trade is all about timing for Rockets

Sometimes the best move is to wait. Composite photo by Jack Brame

As leaks begin to intensify through the media, it's become pretty clear: the Houston Rockets are preparing to trade James Harden. Many have speculated that perhaps Houston was hedging their bets this summer with Harden, but it's hard to overlook these core facts:

1) Prior to demanding a trade, James Harden turned down a contract extension for the first time since being in Houston.
2) The Rockets spent the bulk of their offseason acquiring young talent and first round draft picks.
3) Every long-term contract Houston inked this summer was with players 25 years or under.
4) The kind of offer Houston was looking for in return for James Harden was leaked through the media (blue chip prospect and multiple first round draft picks).

They may not advertise it, but Houston has effectively made it clear that they intend to move on from Harden "sooner rather than later", per Adrian Wojnarowski. This piece isn't to deny what Houston is bound to do, but rather explain why it may be a mistake to rush into a deal.

1. James Harden is one of the greatest basketball players of all time

This one is self-explanatory, but Harden is already one of the 30 greatest basketball players of all time, and he has two years left on his contract. Yes, it may be very difficult to repair the relationship and it's only been done a couple times in modern NBA history, but it's not unprecedented. If Houston has even a two percent chance of retaining him, it's the same principle of chasing that type of talent - it would be malpractice to not go for it.

A lot of what's being said in the media about James Harden not being that attractive of an asset is posturing. If you don't believe me, go look up how poorly some articles have aged the last time players of this caliber were on the market. The best assets (Ben Simmons, Tyler Herro, Jaylen Brown, etc...) will still be on the table a year from now because these general managers aren't stupid; they understand how rare a talent like Harden is. It will not hurt the Rockets much if they choose to see how things develop.

It's possible that teams pay a little more now than later due to losing time on Harden's contract, but it's unlikely that a team interested in his services would be bold enough to take their best assets off the table. Teams interested in Harden are trying to maximize their title window - that will still be the case at the trade deadline. Think of it this way: If the price of trying to keep Harden is losing out on a first round pick from a team's best offer, is it worth waiting?

Of course it is. It's James Harden.

2. The Rockets could still be very good this season

A lot of my skepticism on Houston entering the season was based on the amount of gambles they took this offseason. From John Wall to David Nwaba, the Rockets went with the "high risk, high reward" model up and down the roster. When you compound those odds, it was unlikely that enough bets were going to pay off for Houston to remain a very good team.

However, if you've followed the Rockets' early returns from the preseason, it's become clear that a lot of their bets are paying off. Christian Wood looked like a stud in the 23 minutes of preseason action he played. John Wall looks healthy and engaged defensively. DeMarcus Cousins seems to have reinvigorated his career with three-point shooting. Even Eric Gordon looks poised for a bounce-back season.

Much like the 2016 offseason, a lot of Houston's roster bets are paying off. Trading James Harden before you've gotten time to properly evaluate the team you have could be a mistake. The realistic worst case scenario is Houston isn't very good and they can still deal Harden at the trade deadline. Perhaps you lose out on a minor asset here or there, but the teams seriously interested will put their best chips on the table because they're chasing a championship.

What if 20 games in, Houston has one of the best records in the Western Conference? You may not be able to convince James Harden to stay long-term, but passing up on a year of title contention to pivot to a rebuild is the greatest sin in professional sports.

3. The offers are more likely to get better, not worse

If you wanted to construct the best argument for patience, this is it. Every NBA team is going into the season with zero losses and is excited for what lies ahead. Some of these teams may be interested in Harden, but want to see what they have first before making a major decision like that. At the trade deadline, these teams may recognize that they aren't good enough to win a title and decide to throw in their best and final offer.

This is why you wait.

Unless there's a godfather offer on the table, Houston doesn't have incentive to rush into a trade when Harden has two years remaining on his deal. What if the season starts and a team like Denver falls behind the pack in the Western Conference? Do they come to Houston with their best package?

What if Philadelphia realizes that their problems last season extended beyond floor spacing? Will Daryl Morey stop posturing and include Ben Simmons in his best offer? You can continue this exercise with several different teams, but the point stands - more teams will become aggressive if you wait.

When more teams become aggressive, a bidding war emerges. When a bidding war emerges, Houston will have more leverage than they have right now. Currently, the Rockets have four opportunities to trade Harden:

1. Right now
2. At this year's trade deadline
3. Next summer
4. At next year's trade deadline

There is no need to rush this. Contrary to what pundits are saying right now, Houston has significant leverage and that will remain the case for a while. They have an all-time player with two years remaining on his contract. It's all a matter of how uncomfortable they're willing to get.

If you're going to rebuild, you're going to rebuild. There is no "best time" to do that. A third of the league is in a constant state of rebuild. Ripping the Band-Aid off may seem like an attractive option, but it's monumentally important that the Rockets get this trade right. A lost season is a lost season. Ask San Antonio about the long-term ramifications of screwing up a trade like this.

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The losing streak continues

Mariners get walk-off win over short-staffed Astros

Alex De Goti had an impressive debut. Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

After a brutal homestand capped off by losing five players to the IL for health and safety protocols, the once 5-1 Astros brought their now 6-6 record to T-Mobile park in Seattle to try and right the ship. They'd have to do it with new and young players in the lineup using the "next man up" mentality to get some wins against the first-place Mariners.

Though the young bats would work themselves into a lead most of the night, Houston's bullpen wouldn't be able to hold the Mariners down, with Seattle ultimately walking things off in the ninth.

Final Score: Mariners 6, Astros 5

Astros' Record: 6-7, fourth in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Anthony Misiewicz (2-0)

Losing Pitcher: Ryne Stanek (0-1)

After a quiet start, Houston gets three in the fifth

After cruising through the Astros through the first four innings, allowing only a walk over that span, Houston was able to put up a big inning against Yusei Kikuchi in the top of the fifth. Carlos Correa notched the first hit of the night, followed by a walk by Taylor Jones to put two on base.

That brought Alex De Goti, making his major-league debut, to the plate and, in his second career at-bat, would get his first hit and RBI, bringing in Correa from second on a single. A second run would come on the same play on a throwing error, then Chaz McCormick made it a three-run inning with an RBI-double, putting Houston out front 3-0.

Urquidy comes an out shy of a quality start

Meanwhile, Jose Urquidy was doing well through five innings. On track for a much-needed quality start, the Mariners would tag him in the bottom of the sixth, getting three-straight hits to bring in two runs to lead off the frame and leaving a runner on second base with no outs.

Urquidy would rebound to get the next two batters on strikeouts, but at 90 pitches and with a left-handed hitter up next, Dusty Baker would bring in lefty Brooks Raley to try and get out of the inning with the one-run lead intact. Raley would do his job, putting Uruidy's line final: 5.2 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 7 K, 90 P.

Teams trade two-run seventh innings

The young bats for Houston struck again in the top of the seventh, with Jones and De Goti leading it off with back-to-back singles before Jason Castro would load the bases with a walk. With two outs, Aledmys Diaz would push the lead back to three with a two-RBI single, making it 5-2.

With Raley out after facing his one batter, next out of Houston's bullpen was Bryan Abreu to help maintain Houston's lead. Instead, he would give up two runs on two hits and a walk while getting just two outs before Baker moved on to Blake Taylor, who would get the last out of the seventh with Houston hanging on to a one-run lead at 5-4.

Mariners get the walk-off win

Taylor remained in the game in the bottom of the eighth, and after getting an out, would allow a game-tying solo home run to Evan White before injuring himself trying to field an infield single. Ryne Stanek entered and finished off the eighth, sending the tie game to the ninth.

After Houston came up empty in the top half, Stanek remained in the game in the bottom of the ninth, attempting to force extras. Back-to-back walks ended Stanek's night, with the Astros hoping Ryan Pressly could bail them out. He couldn't, though, giving up the walk-off hit as the Mariners would take the opener, 6-5.

Up Next: Game two of this three-game set will start an hour earlier on Saturday, with first pitch at 8:10 PM Central. Zack Greinke (1-1, 4.08 ERA) will try to rebound from a poor start his last time out for the Astros, while the Mariners will hand the ball to Chris Flexen (1-0, 4.50 ERA).

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