Buying or Selling Latest NBA Trade Buzz
James Harden watch continues.
The bearded baller isn't the only one tumbling around the NBA rumor mill, but he is the only player being discussed who captured the last three scoring titles, won an assist crown before that and has five top-three finishes in MVP voting, including top billing in 2017-18.
So apologies to anyone growing fatigued by all the Harden talk, but he'll remain at the forefront of all hypothetical-swap speech until his league-altering exit from Space City is finalized.
Let's give the smell test to the latest chatter surrounding the stranded scoring star and others potentially on the market.
Harden Would Struggle to Adapt to New Team
Harden has become as synonymous with a specific play style as any player in the modern game. Mention "Harden Ball" and even casual fans will conjure up a mental picture of the Beard carving up his defender in isolation and punctuating the play with a step-back triple, a bulldozing basket attack or a trip to the charity stripe.
He basically perfected the perimeter isolation. He used it more than any team but his own and landed in the 92nd percentile of iso finishers last year. They comprised nearly half his offensive sets (45.0 percent) during a year in which he averaged an Association-best 34.3 points with a 62.6 true shooting percentage.
The sets have become second nature, which spawns some questions about him as a trade target. What if his next employer doesn't want so many isolations? How willing would a 31-year-old three-time scoring champ be to switch up his approach? Not very, according to rival execs.
"I don't think he is [willing to adjust]," a veteran Eastern Conference executive told SI.com's Howard Beck. "James is like Allen Iverson: He wants to win his way and put up historical numbers while he's winning. I would never question their desire to win, but they all want to win on their terms."
Harden's isolations aren't going away.
Sure, you might want your fireballing pitcher to develop some off-speed pitches, but you don't ask him to abandon his triple-digit fastball. Not to mention, should Harden land with a team like the Brooklyn Nets or Portland Trail Blazers—both top-10 in isolations per game—their iso-heavy offenses might just throw more one-on-one calls into the game plan.
If he goes elsewhere and senses an opportunity to contend for the crown, there should be a common ground in which the team gives him some isolation chances and he increases his off-ball activity as a spot-up sniper and cutter. He wouldn't need a dramatic change, in other words, so much as some strategic tweaks that could get him closer to a title.
Buy or Sell: Buy this being discussed by trade suitors, but sell the idea of an eight-time All-Star being unable to adapt.
Heat Don't Have the Trade Chips to Get Harden
Fresh off a surprise Finals run, the Miami Heat are clearly within arm's reach of the championship race. But they won't sniff a win without fixing their 24th-ranked offense.
Snagging a go-to scorer—an offensive orca?—would seemingly be the simplest way to juice the attack as the roster features none of the 53 players across the league averaging 18-plus points. That's why more than a few eyebrows were raised when ESPN's Brian Windhorst reported last month the Heat had abandoned the Harden pursuit.
But what if they didn't exit the Battle for the Beard by choice?
According to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald, the Rockets want "more significant assets" than Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson. Jackson even opined that Herro, Robinson, Precious Achiuwa, KZ Okpala, Andre Iguodala, Kelly Olynyk and first-round picks in 2025 and 2027 might not get it done.
That sounds like the refrain from the Rockets must be "Bam Adebayo or Bust," in which case the Heat would have no choice but to walk away.
It's a little surprising given Herro's eye-popping play in the postseason.
At the same time, stardom wasn't exactly expected and is by no means guaranteed for 2019's No. 13 pick, so you get why the Rockets might want more sweeteners. And you could also understand why Robinson (a 26-year-old specialist), Achiuwa (the 20th overall pick in a "meh" draft), Okpala (a 2019 second-rounder with fewer than 100 career minutes) and two first-round picks in the distant future wouldn't cut it.
Buy or Sell: Buying like we're time-travelers backtracking to make an early investment in Apple.
Raptors Among Favorites for Harden with Siakam as Centerpiece
Two years back, the Toronto Raptors paved a championship path by plucking a disgruntled superstar out of the Lone Star State. Could Harden deliver the ultimate prize the way Kawhi Leonard did in 2018-19?
The Raptors might be in position to find out.
"An impeccable source says the Raptors and the Celtics are the favorites right now for James Harden," John Granato of ESPN 97.5 Houston reported. "It'd be a package for Pascal Siakam and more or Jaylen Brown and more."
Jaylen Brown should have already removed himself from this discussion as he could be following Jayson Tatum's footsteps in making a superstar turn. But with the Raptors and Siakam both stumbling out of the starting block, that part of the equation is worth exploring.
Toronto has just two wins in eight tries, and the bubble already burst on its hopes of luring Giannis Antetokounmpo north of the border in free agency. Siakam, in particular, has encountered a few early roadblocks, struggling to adjust to smaller, more athletic defenders being sent his way. It's not exactly what you want to see from a player set to collect $136.9 million between now and 2023-24.
The Raptors shouldn't leave the Harden stone unturned, and Siakam's contract would make for the simplest swap. But why would the Rockets want him as a centerpiece? They're staring down a post-Harden rebuild, and Siakam will be 27 in April. They should be thinking further into the future, and that's before accounting for whatever depreciation has occurred amid this rocky start.
Buy or Sell: Buy Toronto as a suitor for Harden, but sell Houston seeing Siakam as a top-shelf needle-mover.
Lillard Campaigning to Get Draymond to Portland
Oakland native Damian Lillard has his eye on the Bay Area for a specific reason.
He wants the Portland Trail Blazers to pluck defensive anchor—and close friend—Draymond Green away from the Golden State Warriors.
"If we were handicapping Draymond trade destinations if the Warriors decided to blow it up ... that's the one," Sam Amick said on The Athletic NBA Show. "Damian and his group have for the last couple years been campaigning for that."
Lillard's interest should surprise no one given the difficulties the Blazers have had in making their frontcourt more versatile. Plus, if there's a way to build a championship-level winner around the defensively challenged duo of Lillard and CJ McCollum, it probably involves at least one dominant stopper, and Green certainly fits the bill as a former Defensive Player of the Year and five-time All-Defensive selection.
But the "if the Warriors decided to blow it up" caveat looms pretty large here.
How bad would things need to get for Golden State to go the nuclear route before Stephen Curry has a chance to reunite with sibling-in-splash Klay Thompson, who lost the 2020-21 campaign to a torn Achilles? Perhaps they glanced at the self-destruct button while dropping the season's first two contests by a combined 65 points, but after steadying the ship with a 5-2 mark since, the doomsday scenario seems off the table.
As long as the Dubs are keeping Curry, they'll almost surely want Green around to guide the defense and copilot the offense.
Buy or Sell: Buy Lillard wanting this to happen, but sell the Warriors having interest in a Draymond deal any time soon.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.