It doesn't appear as though the James Harden trade rumours are going away anytime soon.
Ahead of training camp, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and Tim MacMahon reported that Harden let it be known he'd be open to a trade to the Philadelphia 76ers or "other contenders."
In return, the Rockets are said to be looking for a package built around "a young franchise cornerstone," "a bundle of first-round picks" and/or "talented players on rookie contracts."
Reporting w/ @ESPN_MacMahon: James Harden has recently indicated to Houston he'd be open to a trade to Philadelphia or other contenders. So far, no substantive talks with Sixers. Daryl Morey's been adamant he wants to keep his two young stars. https://t.co/9ZFKB8MSGx- Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) December 8, 2020
Which teams tick all of those boxes, both for Harden and the Rockets? Let's take a closer look.
The Nets were the first team reported as being at the top of Harden's list.
The appeal? Harden, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant would form one of the most talented offensive trios in NBA history. There's no guarantee that it would work - they're each at their best with the ball in their hands and would each have to make some significant sacrifices to get the most out of each other - but the three of them would turn the Nets into the favourite to come out of the Eastern Conference, as well as potentially the favourite to win it all.
Harden and Durant at least have experience playing together, having been teammates for three seasons on the Oklahoma City Thunder early on in their careers. While they've both changed quite a bit since then, that would take some of the risk out of trading for Harden.
MORE: Why Harden on the Nets would and wouldn't work
For the Nets to acquire Harden, they'd almost certainly have to gut their depth. Assuming Irving and Durant are off limits, any deal for him would likely start with Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen, plus a number of future first-round draft picks. The fact that the New Orleans Pelicans got three future first-round draft picks and two pick swaps for Jrue Holiday, who is seven seasons removed from the one and only All-Star selection of his career, will only increase Houston's asking price.
The Nets have enough star power to compete for a championship without Harden, so it wouldn't come as a huge surprise if they were unwilling to go all-in for him even though he would raise their ceiling.
Unlike the Nets, the 76ers wouldn't have to gut their depth to acquire Harden. They would, however, almost certainly have to part ways with Ben Simmons or Joel Embiid.
76ers president Daryl Morey, who facilitated the trade that brought Harden to the Rockets in 2012, has indicated that he has no interest in trading either Simmons or Embiid, but it will be interesting to see if he changes his mind anytime soon. Harden became an eight-time All-Star, three-time scoring champion and one-time MVP under Morey in Houston. There aren't many in the NBA who know Harden better than Morey does.
"I can't believe I won't be able to have another strategy session with James," Morey wrote after leaving the Rockets for the 76ers. "I loved working together on how to get his incredible Hall of Fame teammates Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook to the Rockets. I will be rooting for James to win a championship in Houston. It's how this story should end."
Whether it was Harden and Simmons or Harden and Embiid, the 76ers would have one of the best one-two punches in the league with Harden, as well as a supporting cast that can get the most out of them in Danny Green, Seth Curry and Tobias Harris.
There's a case to be made that the 76ers would be better off in the long run sticking with Simmons and Embiid - they're two of the best young prospects in the league and are under team control for several more seasons, whereas Harden is already in his 30s and could be a free agent in 2022 - but there's no denying that Harden would give them a better shot at winning now.
If Harden is looking to join a contender, how about the team that made it to the Western Conference Finals last season?
The Nuggets are in need of more defence than more offence, but Harden, Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic would make for the best Big Three in the league today.
There would be some concerns - much like Irving and Durant, Murray and Jokic are both at their best with the ball in their hands - but the fit between Harden, Murray and Jokic is a little more natural than it is between Harden, Irving and Durant. Murray already spends a decent amount of time playing off-ball next to Jokic, and neither Irving nor Durant can pass at the same level Jokic can. The three of them have skills that complement one another.
That's operating under the assumption that the Nuggets would be able to acquire Harden without giving up Murray, of course. It's possible, although it would hinge on whether or not the Nuggets are willing to part ways with Michael Porter Jr. - the Nuggets have reportedly made it clear that he's not available - and how high the Rockets are on the 22-year-old.
If the Nuggets did make Porter Jr. available but the Rockets weren't interested in something along the lines of Gary Harris, Will Barton, Porter Jr. and draft compensation, where would Denver draw the line?
It's no secret that the Heat are interested in acquiring another All-Star calibre player to pair with Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo.
If they miss out on Giannis Antetokounmpo next offseason and the Washington Wizards don't make Bradley Beal available, could they shift their attention to Harden?
It wouldn't be easy for the Heat to match Harden's salary as it would for the Nets, 76ers and Nuggets, but it's not impossible. Andre Iguodala and Kelly Olynyk are a starting point - the two of them will make $27.2 million next season - while Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson and/or draft picks could be used to sweeten the deal for the Rockets.
Miami's depth was a big reason for its success last season, but Harden, Butler and Adebayo would give them the firepower to go head-to-head with the best the league has to offer. Even if it's not the cleanest of fits - Butler was one of the worst shooters in the league last season and the Heat run a fair share of their offence through Adebayo - here's to Erik Spoelstra figuring it out.
Toronto Raptors - Kawhi Leonard 2.0? The Raptors managed to trade for Leonard without sacrificing their future, but any deal for Harden would almost certainly revolve around Pascal Siakam. The Raptors could offer an interesting package with some combination of Siakam, OG Anunoby, Norman Powell, Chris Boucher and picks.
Boston Celtics - We can assume Jayson Tatum is off the table, but the Celtics still have some interesting young players in Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, rookie Aaron Nesmith and Robert Williams III. More importantly, Boston owns all of its future first-round draft picks.
Golden State Warriors - The Warriors have never shied away from adding a superstar to their core of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. Andrew Wiggins and Kelly Oubre Jr. could be used to match salary in a deal centered around James Wiseman, the No. 2 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft.
New Orleans Pelicans - Is it likely? No. But the Pelicans have a ton of future first-round picks that could whet Houston's appetite. They deserve mention.
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