And while no one can guarantee such a pairing will actualize itself, Dallas is prepared to put forth a valiant effort to make sure it does, reports Tom Haberstroh of ESPN The Magazine:
He may not boast the per-game scoring averages of Gordon, but league sources say the Mavericks, located in the fifth-biggest TV market, and the Rockets, in the 10th biggest, are already interested in offering a monster deal to Harden. Not to mention that his mother lives in Phoenix, near Harden's alma mater. The Suns might decide to carve out extra millions to bring Harden home.
Though it's impossible to know whether Harden will make it past the October 31st deadline and into restricted free agency next summer, there's no denying he is the ideal candidate for which Mark Cuban and company should throw piles of money at.
Because, not only is the combo guard the NBA's reigning Sixth Man of the Year—someone who could more than fill the void left by Jason Terry—but he's also a superstar.
It's extremely rare that we get to refer to an essential role player as a superstar. After all, superstars aren't supposed to come off the bench, they're supposed to start, alongside the other star-studded athletes.
But much like Manu Ginobili and Terry, Harden doesn't need to. And unlike every other player in the league, including Ginobili and Terry, he has never had to.
Harden began his career on the bench three years ago, and that's where he has remained. Of the 220 regular season games he's appeared in, he's started just seven.
And despite such superior abilities, he's embraced his role as a sixth man, without sacrificing the luxury of stardom. His 2011-12 campaign speaks for itself, a year in which he averaged 16.8 points, 3.7 assists, 4.1 rebounds and one steal per game, posting a ridiculous PER of 21.13.
This is the type of star Dallas needs, what it is most certainly pining for—an emotional carbon copy of Nowitzki.
Now, before you leave nasty comments in the section below, understand I'm not comparing the two physically, just mentally.
Would Nowitzki not do whatever is necessary to bring the Mavericks back to the NBA Finals, even if that meant coming off the bench? Of course he would, because he's a selfless leader, a loyal cornerstone.
Just like Harden.
By this point, Harden is coming off the bench by choice, not because he feels most comfortable—though I'm sure that's the case—but because it's best for the team.
With two high-octance scorers like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in the starting lineup, Harden's presence provides too much firepower too soon. Sure, you'll find those three on the court together on many occasions, but his willingness to come off the bench ensures there's never a point where all three are on it and limits the times when even two of them are.
Would James Harden be a suitable replacement for Dirk Nowitzki once he retires?
This isn't to say that Harden will be used in the same capacity should he wind up in Dallas, but it's the attitude that is important. He would provide the Mavericks with a worthy star to hand the torch off to once Nowitzki retires.
And at 34, Dallas can be sure that day is coming soon.
You see, this goes well beyond Harden's versatile skill-set. He can run point, attack the rim, score off the dribble and spot-up from the corner. He is one the more underrated perimeter defenders in the game. And that's important.
But it's not everything.
Nowitzki's basketball clock is ticking, and Harden would ensure his remaining days aren't wasted, while also ensuring the team is left in capable hands—and facial hair—long after he is gone.
Because Harden is the type of player a team can build around, the type of athlete who can lead a championship cause and most importantly, possesses the kind of selflessness that Nowitzki used to build this team.
And should Oklahoma City decide it cannot afford to keep that kind of player, you can bet that the Mavericks will be waiting with outstretched arms and an open checkbook.