Harden’s Rockets ‘Can’t Defeat Lakers,’ Driving Trade Demand: Insider

James Harden, left, of the Houston Rockets

Getty James Harden, left, of the Houston Rockets

It was the press conference that shook the NBA world. We all knew, of course, that Rockets star James Harden is unhappy in Houston and that the Rockets have been actively seeking to find a trade for Harden. But Harden threw a grenade into the works on Tuesday night after the Rockets were drubbed by the Lakers for a second straight time.

Appearing before the media for just a bit less than two minutes, Harden said, simply, “We’re just not good enough. Chemistry, talent-wise, everything. It was clear these last few games from the beginning of the game. (The Lakers) were just aggressive. A veteran team, obviously, a championship team. One of the best teams we have in this league.

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“I love this city. I’ve literally done everything that I can. This situation, it’s crazy. It’s something that I don’t think can be fixed. Thanks.”

And according to Rockets reporter Kelly Iko of The Athletic, it was the reality of the Lakers that sealed the deal on Harden wanting out. From Iko’s story on the website:

Privately, Harden knows the team as currently constructed can’t defeat the Lakers in a seven-game series, a reality that only further cements desires for a move elsewhere, sources said. With the Lakers being the reigning champions and the standard for a contender right now, Harden wants to maximize the window he still has, a source said.

Rockets Wanted to be Patient With a James Harden Trade

With that, the prevailing wisdom that the Rockets would move deliberately in trying to find a trade package for Harden, a former MVP who has led the NBA in scoring for three straight years before this season, went out the window.

The team has been actively looking for deals for Harden for months, but have not been able to find a team willing to meet its asking price. Harden gave the Rockets a list of teams to which he would be amenable to a trade, including Brooklyn and Philadelphia (still his top targets), Milwaukee, Boston, Portland and Miami.

Harden’s actions have kneecapped his trade value, though. He showed up for the season late for training camp, out of shape and having been shown on social media videos partying in Atlanta and Las Vegas. Around the league, that has lowered his trade value, especially considering this is a guy who is owed $130 million over the next three years, including this season.

Despite Harden sinking his own value with the way he has approached this season, the Rockets are apparently still trying to recoup fair value for him.

James Harden Has Damaged His Own Trade Value

That will be a challenge, though. As good as Harden is—he has averaged 33.7 points, 7.9 assists and 6.2 rebounds in the last three years before this season—he comes with extensive baggage. Even before the troubles he’s had this season, Harden struggled to co-exist with past stars on the Rockets roster, including Dwight Howard and Chris Paul.

Houston traded star guard Russell Westbrook to Washington this offseason.

The Rockets are seeking a young star in return for Harden, as well as a solid veteran and a package of picks that can replenish the team’s barren draft cupboard. They would have been more likely to have that price met if Harden had been able to play the good soldier and allow his trade value to be rebuilt after a difficult start to the year.

But already Harden has blown up Houston’s plans and could force the Rockets to accept less than fair value for him.

John Wall, the star guard the Rockets acquired in the Westbrook trade, seemed to acknowledge that things were not working out with Harden. But he was surprised that Harden wanted to, “jump off the cliff,” so ealry into their time together.

“I think it’s been a little rocky, can’t lie about that,” Wall said. “I don’t think it’s been the best it could be, to be honest. That’s all I really could say.”

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