Stephen A.: James Harden, Chris Paul Have Spoken; CP3 Denied Trade Request

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistJune 19, 2019

OAKLAND, CA - APRIL 30: Chris Paul #3 and James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets look on during Game Two of the Western Conference Semifinals of the 2019 NBA Playoffs against the Golden State Warriors on April 30, 2019 at ORACLE Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)
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ESPN's Stephen A. Smith shed more light on the reported drama between Houston Rockets stars James Harden and Chris Paul during First Take on Wednesday.

Yahoo Sports' Vincent Goodwill reported Tuesday that Paul had requested a trade from the Rockets and that the relationship between Paul and Harden was "unsalvageable." According to Goodwill, the two also "went nearly two months without speaking to each other during the season."

Smith said Wednesday he had spoken to Paul and that the nine-time All-Star guard indicated he had never requested a trade. Smith also played down the idea Paul and Harden weren't on speaking terms:

"James Harden and Chris Paul have spoken. Did James Harden get back to Chris Paul initially? No he did not. Did it take a few weeks or whatever for them to connect? Sure it did, that happens. But in the end, they have spoken and this stuff about them ... not getting along with one another, that's not the real issue going on with Houston, which is why I say Max [Kellerman], it amounts to nothing as it pertains directly to CP3 and Harden."

After Goodwill's report broke, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey denied Paul had made a formal trade request:

Zach Lowe @ZachLowe_NBA

Just spoke to Daryl Morey. He reiterated there has been no trade demand from Chris Paul. "Tweet that I said that. Print it. Tweet it twice." https://t.co/oo6ge0Wkop

Paul also commented on the matter on Instagram, writing, "Damn! That's news to me...":

Alykhan Bijani @Rockets_Insider

Chris Paul denies Harden/Paul rumors on Instagram: “🤷🏾‍♂️ Damn! That’s news to me...” #Rockets https://t.co/hlsUSs3YND

Houston has a strong incentive to make this partnership work because it's hard to see an alternative.

ESPN.com's Adrian Wojnarowski reported in May that Morey was willing to entertain trade discussions for anybody on the Rockets roster. Harden was included in that list, albeit on an "extremely limited" basis.

Trading Paul would free up a lot of salary-cap space to either pursue a marquee free agent or fill out the roster with skilled role players. His contract makes it almost impossible to move him, though, without taking on an equally bad deal or two.

Paul is owed $124 million over the next three years, assuming he opts in to his final year in 2021-22. That's a massive commitment for a 34-year-old guard who is seemingly declining.

Paul missed 24 games for the second straight season and finished with a 1.0 net rating—his lowest since 2012-13—per NBA.com. He also shot 35.8 percent on three-pointers and a career-low 41.9 percent from the field. His 2.6 turnovers per game tied for the second-highest mark of his career as well.

In short, teams won't be banging down Morey's door to acquire Paul this summer. For better or worse, Harden and Paul might be stuck with one another, which gives them plenty of reason to put any drama they might have had in the past as they pursue a title in 2020.