A lot of teams have had rumored interest in James Harden since he demanded a trade before the start of training camp. The Houston Rockets have held firm on what they want for the former MVP and three-time scoring champ.
The Toronto/Tampa Bay Raptors are off to a slow start this season. They have been hemorrhaging important players since winning the championship two years ago, and though they were one of the few teams that might have had a chance to sign Giannis Antetokounmpo as a free agent, they need to pivot to a new plan with that possibility off the table.
That new plan should be trading for James Harden, and a package of Pascal Siakam, Norman Powell and draft compensation is the type of deal that would get Houston's interest.
Harden wants to be traded to a contender, and the Raptors need a player like him.
Why Toronto Makes Sense
The Raptors offense has completely fallen apart at the start of the season.
Last year, they were dependent on getting out in transition, which made up for their struggles in the half court. According to Synergy Sports Technology, they scored 1.15 points per possession in transition and 0.96 in the halfcourt.
Even though it has been just four games, Toronto's offense has fallen off dramatically. Per Synergy, it's down to 0.86 PPP in the half court and 0.92 in transition, and the team ranks last in offensive rating (97.8) and free-throws attempts per game (13.7).
After Kawhi Leonard left for the Los Angeles Clippers, Siakam was expected to take over as the No. 1 option last season. He started out strong but slowly faded even before the bubble. The start of 2020-21 has not been kind to him, either. He's averaging 18.7 points on 39.3 percent shooting from the field and 33.3 percent from three on 7.0 attempts per game.
The Raptors need a leading man, and that is where Harden comes in.
Few players can generate as much offense as the 31-year-old. In his first game of the 2020-21 season, not in the best shape and with little practice, he dropped 44 points and 17 assists in an overtime loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. Then he followed it up with a 34-point, eight-assist, six-rebound night against the Denver Nuggets.
Meanwhile, the Raptors offense struggled against the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday as it went scoreless for the final five minutes of the third quarter, giving up a 13-point lead on the way to a 100-93 loss.
As part of the hypothetical trade, the Raptors could also take on P.J. Tucker. He is a free agent at the end of this season and is reportedly unhappy that the Rockets have not extended his deal.
That would give Toronto head coach Nick Nurse a few different ways to work his rotation. He could start Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Harden, OG Anunoby and Aron Baynes and then bring Tucker off the bench. He could also insert Tucker into the starting lineup and bring Anunoby off the pine.
Either way, the Raptors would have the ability to play different ways and run an isolation game with Harden, who would generate open looks for VanVleet and Lowry, and a more egalitarian offense when he rests.
There would be risk of Harden leaving in two years, just as Leonard did after one. But if the Raptors are thinking that way, then they should look to move Lowry, who is now in the final year of his deal. The season may be young, but the Raptors' offensive struggles are real and will persist all year with the current roster.
Trading for Harden would at least keep the window open a little longer.
Why It Works for Houston
The big thing the Rockets are asking for in any potential trade is a young star. Siakam was miscast as the No. 1 guy in Toronto last season, but Houston would check that box with a 26-year-old who is under contract through 2023-24 with no player options.
In addition to getting Siakam, the Rockets would gain a valuable role player off the bench in Powell. Last season, he shot 39.9 percent from three on his way to averaging 16 points per game for the Raptors. He was even deadlier spotting up and connected on 44.0 percent of his catch-and-shoot threes.
On the court, head coach Stephen Silas could start John Wall, Eric Gordon, Danuel House, Siakam and Christian Wood with Powell and DeMarcus Cousins coming off the bench. Even in the Western Conference, that team could compete on a nightly basis.
Why It's a Yes for Harden
As of now, the Raptors have not been one of the teams on Harden's list. They also weren't on Leonard's list when they traded for him and won a championship, and he left that offseason.
In this case, it would be more of a two-year rental since Harden has a $46.9 million player option for the 2022-23 season.
On the basketball court, Toronto would be a great fit for Harden. With Lowry in the backcourt, he would not have to take on a large leadership role. He would be the focal point of the offense and would be playing for Nurse, who is one of the most innovative coaches in the game right now.
The organization, headed by president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri, is known for taking care of its players, offering a level of stability most other places cannot.
Winners All Around
This trade would be a win for both teams.
The Rockets would be getting back nice value for Harden, and the Raptors would instantly fix their offensive woes while also getting a second player in Tucker who could be a key contributor.
Harden would join a team on which he could continue to be Harden and have a better chance of competing than he does in Houston.
If he remains insistent on being traded, there might not be a better option for all parties involved than a deal between Houston and Toronto.
Mo Dakhil spent six years with the Los Angeles Clippers and two years with the San Antonio Spurs as a video coordinator, as well as three years with the Australian men's national team. Follow him on Twitter, @MoDakhil_NBA.