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.

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

Houston loses in San Francisco

Astros drop back-and-forth middle game to Giants to even series

Houston's offense couldn't keep up with the Giants on Saturday. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images.

With the impressive win in the opener to start the series, the Astros entered Saturday's middle game against the Giants with an opportunity to not just secure the series but surpass San Francisco for the best record in the league. They'd have to wait to take that crown, as the Giants would out-slug the Astros to even the series.

Final Score: Giants 8, Astros 6

Astros' Record: 64-41, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Jay Jackson (2-0)

Losing Pitcher: Blake Taylor (2-3)

Teams trade blows early, Giants chase Greinke out early

The teams traded blows early in this one, with the Giants tagging Zack Greinke with six runs, all on homers. The first was a solo shot in the bottom of the second to start the scoring before hitting one in each inning through the fourth: two-run blasts in the third and fourth, then a go-ahead solo shot in the bottom of the fifth, putting them ahead 6-5 at the time. Greinke would face one more batter, allowing a single to end his lackluster day: 4.0 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 4 HR, 93 P.

Houston's offense kept things close to try and keep Greinke in a position to win, going up 3-1 in the third on a two-run Aledmys Diaz homer and another coming in on an error. After San Francisco scored four unanswered to make it 5-3, Diaz homered again in the top of the fifth to cut the deficit to one run before Yuli Gurriel would tie it with an RBI double.

Astros stay in it, but Giants even the series by winning the slug-fest

With Greinke exiting with no outs in the fifth, Houston handed the ball to Phil Maton, acquired in the recent Myles Straw trade, to make his debut for his new team. He worked himself into a jam, allowing a single and hitting a batter to load the bases with one out, but was able to get back-to-back strikeouts to strike out the side and strand all three runners, keeping it a one-run game.

That proved pivotal in the top of the sixth, as with two outs, Martin Maldonado would launch a game-tying solo homer, making it 6-6. Blake Taylor took over out of the bullpen in the bottom of the inning but would face just three batters, getting two outs while leaving one on as Dusty Baker moved on to Cristian Javier. Javier would watch the Giants retake the lead, getting back-to-back singles to bring in a run and make it 7-6.

Javier stayed in the game in the bottom of the seventh, allowing a leadoff single but erasing it by striking out the next three batters. Still a 7-6 game in the bottom of the eighth, Yimi Garcia made his Astros debut but did not keep the score there, allowing a leadoff solo homer to make it a two-run game. The 8-6 score would go final as Houston's offense came up empty again in the top of the ninth, setting up a rubber game in the finale.

Up Next: The series finale will get underway at 3:05 PM Central on Sunday in San Francisco. Luis Garcia (7-5, 3.19 ERA) will take the mound for Houston, going opposite Logan Webb (4-3, 3.36 ERA) for the Giants.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome