ON A ROLL

Joel Blank: This time, the MVP is James Harden's to lose

Barring a collapse, James Harden will be the MVP. Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Hey James: It's yours to lose.

As we put the All-Star Weekend and unofficial midway point of the season behind us, there is still plenty to be decided between now and the end of the regular season— and that doesn't even include the playoffs. With postseason seeding still to be determined, as well as division titles and of course home court advantage, there is a ton to sort out during these final two and a half months of the regular campaign. With all of that uncertainty, there does seem to be one thing that is already decided, and that would be James Harden as your 2017-18 MVP.

The Beard has arguably been the most consistent player in the NBA over the past four seasons. He has twice been runner-up to the MVP trophy, losing to both Steph Curry and Russell Westbrook. This season, he has taken it to another level both individually and as a result his team has reaped the benefits. Harden leads the league in scoring at over 31 points per game as well as being No. 1 in points scored, 3-pointers attempted and made, and has the team single-game scoring recored this season with 60 points against the Magic. He is also second in the league in assists per game, ninth in steals and is grabbing 5 rebounds per contest. The face of the Houston Rockets franchise also has the team playing at an all-time regular-season high level. The Rockets have the best record in the NBA and have put together the best regular season record at the All-Star break for a Houston team in franchise history with a 44-13 record. Sure the team added Chris Paul, but CP3 missed 14 of the team's first 15 games and has only played in 39 of the team's 57 contests. Harden has improved his game statistically across the board every year he has been with the Rockets and this year is no exception. He is averaging more points than he has ever averaged in his career, while improving his field goal and 3-point shooting percentage and still shoots over 86% from the free throw line.

Every year, there are always a handful of players that stand out from the rest and are in consideration for the greatest individual award given out in every NBA season. Kyrie Irving and the Celtics got off to a hot start and he was immediately thrown into the discussion. Jimmy Butler has the Minnesota Timberwolves playing at a level that they have not seen in over a decade so he will get some votes. Like it or not, as the greatest player on the planet today, LeBron James has his name in the discussion once again and deserves it with his numbers as impressive as ever, even in his 15th season. That said, those players and their respective teams have had their ups and downs and none of them have been as consistent as the Beard and his boys from H-Town.

The biggest difference between Harden’s previous runner-up MVP campaigns and this season seems to be the hype. When the Beard came in second to Steph Curry, media was constantly talking about how the Warriors were on a pace to be the greatest regular-season team of all time and Curry was making a case for being the greatest shooter in league history. When James was runner-up to Russell Westbrook a year ago, the talk of the basketball world and all the media outlets that follow it was the historic season that Russ put together as he chased the legend of Oscar Robertson and  averaged a triple-double for the season. This year is different as it seems that everyone is talking about the Rockets and giving them a legitimate chance to dethrone the Warriors in the Western Conference and quite possibly win it all. So it seems as if the stars have aligned and there is a new day dawning for James Harden and the Houston Rockets.

So the MVP is James Harden's to lose. The bigger question is, is the NBA title as well? For as good as Harden and the Rockets have been during the regular season, we all know that awards are given for the regular season but legends are defined by the postseason. The beard still has a lot to prove in the playoffs and all eyes will be on him this year to see if he can erase the ghosts of the past and prevent yet another disappointing, premature elimination. The microscope is on, will James Harden pass his "Finals" exam? It's yours to lose Beard, maybe in more ways than one?

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Let's make a deal. Photo by Getty Images. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

The NFL trade deadline is less than a week away, and the Houston Texans have a significant decision to make regarding their franchise star, J.J. Watt. The Texans are 1-6 through the first seven games of the season, and the next few years of the franchise seem a bit bleak.

No player or staff member has encapsulated Houston's frustration quite like Watt. Excluding the Texans' victory over the Jaguars, the future Hall of Famer has looked miserable in every post-game press conference. Each week, it's the constant look of despair. And in hindsight, closing the chapter on Watt's career in Houston seems to be best for both parties.

At 31-years-old, the All-Pro defensive tackle should be spending the twilight of his career competing for Super Bowls — not playing for a team who is clearly about to hit the reset button at the conclusion of this season.

By departing from Watt, it would allow the Texans to get a jumpstart on their rebuilding project — one that has the potential to bring back quality draft picks, a young prospect, and clear close to $20 million in cap space.

If they decide not to move on from Watt, the Texans risk putting themselves in a situation where they may miss out on obtaining higher draft picks and strapped for cash heading into the 2021 free agency market. And with one year left on his contract following 2020, the Texans also risk losing leverage in a potential deal if forced into trading Watt come next season.

At this stage of his career, the Texans may not receive a haul for Watt's services but could maximize his trade value by dealing him to a championship-contending team. A move that would give Watt the best chances of adding a championship title to his luxurious resume in return.

With the future of the franchise in mind, here are three potential trade ideas that would be best if the Texans are truly considering moving on from Watt.

Watt returns home to Wisconsin and joins the Packers

Texans receive: 2021 first-round pick and LB Kamal Martin

Packer receive: J.J. Watt

The Green Bay Packers are one of a handful of teams who has a realistic chance to stamp their ticket to Super Bowl LV. Following a win over the Texans on Sunday, the Packers stand first in the NFC North with a 5-1 record and possess one of the NFL's best offensive teams.

Green Bay's offense can compete in a shootout with just about any team in the league, but their defense may be the reason why they fall short of representing the NFC in Tampa Bay come February. They have only accumulated a total of 10 quarterback hits and are currently 30th in the league in pass rush through the first six games. The Packers' lack of ability to get to the opposing team's quarterback could be an immense problem during a playoff game that could feature Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Russell Wilson.

So what do the Packers have to lose by acquiring their Wisconsin native?

The addition of Watt would allow the Packers to add one of the best pass rushers of all-time. Although Watt is nowhere near the player that finished second behind Aaron Rogers for league MVP honors in 2015, he has illustrated that he is still a disruptive defensive lineman five years later.

Through the first seven games, Watt has accounted for 11 pressures, six quarterback hits and three sacks — which would make him Green Bay's second most reliable pass rusher trailing only Za'Darius Smith.

For the Texans, receiving a first-round pick for Watt is self-explanatory and would be the most suitable return for the aging star. However, for a team that is building for the future, the Texans should consider obtaining a young and raw prospect to evaluate.

Kamal Martin, a fifth-round draft selection in 2020, made his NFL debut against the Texans on Sunday and left an exceptional first impression. He recorded six tackles and one tackle for loss in 29 snaps inside NRG Stadium, and could be a building block should the Texans begin to make modifications to their linebacking corps.

Seattle sends multiple draft picks for Watt

Texans receive: 2021 second-round pick and fourth-round pick

Seahawks receive: J.J. Watt

If the Packers do not take advantage of improving their pass rush with Watt — perhaps the Seattle Seahawks will. Both NFC teams mirror each other with a high-powered offense, but a feeble defense may hinder one another from advancing to the Super Bowl. In a deal for Watt to the Seahawks, the Texans would miss out on the chance to acquire a first-rounder, but obtaining multiple picks would be just as prominent.

Seattle's general manager John Schneider is no stranger to taking a significant risk, and appears willing to make any moves that will put his organization closer to their long-overdue second title with Russell Wilson. Perhaps, Watt would be that missing key.

The Seahawks are pretty solid at stopping the run but need a tremendous upgrade in their pass defense. Seattle has given up the second-most passing yards on the season (2,212), and the reason seems to be their inability to get to the quarterback. Seattle has only implemented pressure to the opposing team's quarterback on 20.1% of their dropbacks, while only recording a total of nine sacks.

The Seahawks pass defense may not become elite, but the disruption of Watt on their defensive line could be enough to limit the devastation they have experienced through the first seven weeks of the season.

Watt to the Big Easy for Brees' last dance

Texans receive: 2021 second-round pick and Marcus Davenport

Saints receive: J.J. Watt

Seven weeks into the season, the New Orleans Saints are not sitting near the top of the NFC nor their division when compared to recent years. A bevy of injuries have been attributed to their minor decline this season — mainly to their All-Pro receiver Michael Thomas.

However, the Saints have prevailed through the injury bug to march their way to a 4-2 record. If New Orleans can get healthy during the second half of the season, they will be in the running to represent the NFC in Tampa Bay for Super Bowl LV. But unlike the Packers and Seahawks, this could be the Saints last chance to recapture the Vince Lombardi Trophy in what is likely Drew Brees' last dance.

The addition of Watt to the Saints would give general manager Mickey Loomis a chance to create the most disruptive defensive line in the league. Defensive coordinator Dennis Allen would be able to shift the five-time Pro-Bowler to the interior — allowing the Saints to trot out a d-line of Watt, Cameron Jordan and Trey Hendrickson.

This trade would give Watt arguably the most help he has ever had on the defensive line — which would allow New Orleans to maximize what is left of his career.

This trade would have the Texans missing out on obtaining a first-rounder, but a sound-round pick would be just as valuable for Watt. However, Houston should consider adding a young prospect in a potential swap, and Marcus Davenport would be their best return.

Drafted in 2018, Davenport is a former first-round talent who can help transition the Texans into the post-Watt era. He has showed promise of a bright future through his first two seasons, but injuries have prevented the 24-year-old prodigy of San Antonio from establishing himself as one of the league's top young talents.

This season, elbow and toe injuries have limited Davenport to just a pair of games in 2020. Although there is an immense concern regarding Davenport's health, the Texans cannot pass on adding a player who has already registered 11.5 sacks and 31 quarterback hits through his first 28 career games.

Coty M. Davis is a reporter for ESPN 97.5 Houston/SportsMap covering the Houston Texans. He is also the co-host of Locked On Texans, a part of the Locked On Podcast Network. Follow Coty on Twitter @CotyDavis_24.

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