Houston has problems — plural.
The Election Day edition of the newsletter was headlined by the challenges the Rockets face to keep James Harden happy after their coach, Mike D’Antoni, and longtime general manager, Daryl Morey, abruptly walked away from the franchise in the wake of a second-round hammering by the Los Angeles Lakers in the playoffs.
Just two weeks later, Harden is forcefully angling for a trade — to the Nets.
The Rockets’ position on Harden, for the record, hasn’t changed: They don’t want to trade him. Unappetizing as it sounds, Houston wants to play the long game and see if it can rebuild its relationship with Harden before conceding that trading him is the only alternative, even after Rafael Stone, the new general manager, made a forward-looking move in his first major trade by agreeing to send Robert Covington to Portland for Trevor Ariza and two future first-round picks.
Houston reclaimed a modicum of leverage on the Harden front late Monday when New Orleans struck a deal to trade Holiday to Milwaukee, nixing the possibility of the very interested Nets trading for Holiday. Yet that alone isn’t likely to lead to a change of strategy. The Rockets have Harden under contract for at least two more seasons and are not obliged to just send him where he wants.
Houston also surely understands that, if Harden is traded first, it would face even more hurdles trying to move the unhappy Westbrook when the whole league knows Westbrook wants out.
The Nets have a lot to think about here, too.
As much as the Nets covet a third star to join Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving — and a durable one given Durant and, particularly, Irving’s injury histories — there is much logic working against the idea of adding Harden to the mix.
Durant has apparently thrown his support behind a reunion with Harden, and it must hearten (and intrigue) Nets officials to hear that Harden wants to join the project. It likewise can’t hurt that D’Antoni is now an assistant coach for the Nets. Just don’t forget that the ball-dominant duo of Durant and Irving has yet to play one second together in a real N.B.A. game. How sure can the Nets be that Harden, after years of dominating the ball like no other, would make the needed accommodations to play in a three-star alignment when we can’t even be sure how the first two cornerstones will mesh?
The Rockets, furthermore, will be looking for the sort of haul of future first-round draft picks and players that New Orleans just scored in the Holiday trade if they do decide to part with Harden. The Nets don’t appear to be in the best position to supply that.