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James Harden's 'Reckless' Behavior Won't Prevent Rockets Trade, Per Execs

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistDecember 24, 2020

Houston Rockets' James Harden warms up prior to facing the San Antonio Spurs in an NBA basketball game in Houston, Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020. (Carmen Mandato/Pool Photo via AP)
Carmen Mandato/Associated Press

The ongoing saga surrounding James Harden took another turn Wednesday, but it may not dissuade another team from pursuing the Houston Rockets star. 

ESPN's Tim MacMahon reported the NBA was investigating Harden for possibly violating the COVID-19 protocols after a video appeared to show him at a party without a mask.

Tim Bontemps of ESPN spoke to team executives who told him they consider Harden's recent actions to be "selfish and reckless" but that they wouldn't stop a trade from happening:

"Teams have already done their homework when it comes to Harden both on and off the court. One executive told ESPN that the team had hired a private investigator to do a thorough background check, treating the process of gathering information on him like it would a draft prospect.

"If a team is comfortable acquiring Harden, the larger challenge would be putting together enough outgoing salary (at least $33 million) to make a trade legal without gutting its existing roster."

The NBA announced it was postponing Wednesday's opener between the Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder because of positive or inclusive COVID-19 tests within Houston's organization. Four players are in quarantine. While Harden's infraction is unrelated, the league said he was "unavailable due to a violation of the Health and Safety Protocols."

The combination of test results, contact tracing, injury and Harden's situation resulted in the team being unable to field the minimum eight players.

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Harden denied a report that the party in question was held at a strip club:

The physical location is less relevant than other facets of the situation. MacMahon noted the NBA's protocols prohibit players from joining social gatherings of more than 15 people. The league issued a $50,000 fine, citing that portion of the protocol.

Harden previous received criticism when he arrived late to training camp after having partied in Las Vegas and Atlanta, going against league guidance to remain in home markets ahead of the season.

This is all happening as the 2017-18 MVP reportedly is attempting to engineer an exit from Houston. ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported Nov. 16 he had turned down a two-year, $103 million extension and informed the Rockets of his wish to be traded.

Naturally, part of the conversation is focusing on how Harden's off-court incidents are impacting the team's ability to put together a deal.

The 31-year-old is supremely talented and has the potential to tip the scales in the NBA title race. However, The Athletic's Sam Amick reported Dec. 17 that "the combination of Harden’s ball-dominant style, defensive reputation and personality appear to be tempering interest."

Amick also spoke to one team official who said empowering Harden to the extent the Rockets have "just f--ks up your whole organization."

McMahon spoke to a source in November who said the Rockets were "willing to get uncomfortable" rather than rush into a Harden trade. Unfortunately for Houston, that's exactly what's happening.