NBA Trade Rumors: Latest Buzz on James Harden, Giannis Antetokounmpo's Contract

Maurice Bobb@@ReeseReportFeatured ColumnistDecember 12, 2020

Houston Rockets' James Harden (13) argues a call during the second half of an NBA conference semifinal playoff basketball game against the Los Angeles Lakers Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

The Houston Rockets rolled to a 125-104 win over the Chicago Bulls on Friday night to begin the NBA preseason, but noticeably absent was James Harden, who stayed behind because of COVID-19 protocols.

Harden may not have travelled with the team to Chicago, but the ripple effects of his trade demands continue to follow the Rockets everywhere.

While John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins basked in the glory of their collective returns from injuries and Houston's first win under new head coach Stephen Silas, the 2018 MVP made national headlines with new preferred trade destinations. 

According to Marc Stein of the New York Times, the Philadelphia 76ers ranks as the "most likely" landing spot for Harden when the Rockets eventually decide to trade their franchise superstar.

For their part, the Sixers maintain that they will not trade Ben Simmons, the player Houston would want in return for the eight-time All-Star, but Stein reported that the familiarity between the two front offices can "ultimately defuse any lingering tension" from the way Daryl Morey departed the Rockets for Philly.

In addition to the 76ers, Harden's wish list also includes the Miami Heat, Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks.

Oddly enough, Harden's fate may hang in the balance of what happens with the Bucks.

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ESPN's Brian Windhorst reported that the teams that would otherwise be interested in Harden are in a holding pattern as they watch what happens with two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.

"[Teams are] not going to necessarily go all-in on a Harden trade, or even get serious about talking about it, until they know what's going to happen with Giannis," Windhorst said on SportsCenter. "It may be a situation, some of these teams may want to save their assets to see if Giannis might truly be on the market next summer."

Milwaukee has already put its cards on the table.

This offseason, they offered Antetokounmpo a five-year, $228 million max extension, but he hasn't signed it.

If he doesn't sign it and extends his decision, that could have a negative side effect for Harden.

"This is not something we've seen often in the NBA," Windhorst said. "Two MVP-type guys with uncertain futures, but the reward is so high teams are going to hold back and watch to see how things develop."

Should Harden have to ride it out in Houston, sources close to the team expect him to remain professional, The Athletic's Shams Charania reported.

Harden delayed his appearance at the Rockets' training camp after celebrating rapper Lil Baby's 26th birthday, but he reported on Tuesday and is complying with the NBA's coronavirus testing protocol.

After he registers six negative coronavirus tests, he can resume activities with the team and eventually take the court and try to find his way in Silas' new offense.

"Him getting tested in Houston is good for everybody," Silas said to reporters. "We're doing things a little bit differently [on the court], but he's an elite player. Elite players have a way of learning fast."

Silas' new offense requires more ball movement than Mike D'Antoni's system did, but Harden is expected to thrive.

Last season, he led the league in scoring with 34.3 points per game.

      

Maurice Bobb covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow Maurice on Twitter, @ReeseReport