The Harden Trade: A Blessing in Disguise

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When the rumors of a James Harden trade started to percolate, Rockets fans (myself included) thought our organization was about to capsize, and it turns out we were right. Halfway through the first eight games, (the amount Harden played with the Rockets in the 2020-2021 season) Rockets fans understood the inevitable fate of what was to happen.

Harden was gone, the only question that was left was to where exactly was he headed? And for what? At the time, the consensus from Rockets fans alike was that a trade centered around Ben Simmons was the best option available (wow how things have changed). When Harden finally got traded it was to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for a package that included the most draft picks ever traded in an individual trade. There was a sense of disappointment in the compensation for Harden. While there’s a solid argument Houston could have got more, in the long haul, this was exactly what the Rockets needed.

Life Cycle of Harden (and any superstar)

Some people who aren’t Houston fans might take this portion of the article (or maybe even the whole thing) as a bitter, angry fan attempting to justify losing their superstar. While truly it was hard to stomach trading a superstar in the middle of his prime for what seemed like four nickles in exchange for a dollar.

As the season went on and there was time to sit with the situation the Rockets found themselves in, a thought came up amongst the fan base, “If Harden was going to leave, when would I have rathered it than now?” Obviously, the preference of Houston fans alike would be for him to stay for his career, but if he had to go…why not now?

Would a better alternative be in two years when his value is down and Houston has two more playoffs where they likely would be truly competitive to win their conference? Maybe, maybe Houston slips into the finals one year, but nothing about the current NBA landscape indicates that. Houston very well may have received the most they ever would have got for Harden.

Admittedly this is a tough thought process to put oneself through whilst the same player (Harden) is putting an MVP performance up for the team he got traded to. The idea that this was the opportune time to trade harden was growing.

This narrative became a strong one once Harden got injured toward the end of the season and reinjured himself within the first minute of the Nets vs Bucks series. Like any superstar, high usage and deep playoff runs begin to wear on you, even more so when you are on the back nine of thirty years old. Harden up to this point has remained unscathed by the injury bug until this season. This very well might be a one-off scenario or a start of a trend that’s plagued many stars in the past. Rockets fans are just thankful that it didn’t happen before the trade went down.

#2 Overall Pick

One thing that usually occurs after trading a generational talent is that your team is usually not good, at least when comparing it to when you had the superstar. The Rockets this season were no exception to that rule, with the start of the season looking bright with high-level play from Christian Wood, surprisingly good play from John Wall, and Jae’Sean Tate.

The second half of the season took a turn for the worst with failed Victor Olapdio trade and a plethora of injuries as well as COVID protocol complications. The Rockets plummeted in the second half, ending the season with the worst record in the NBA or as Rockets fans framed it, the best lottery odds.

Although, there was a scary caveat along with the high lottery odds acquired by Houston which was OKC would receive the pick if it was outside of the top four. The chances of each scenario were almost 50/50 (with a 47.9% chance of OKC getting the pick) and the Rockets arguably won the lottery and got the number two overall pick.

This puts Houston in a prime position as this is one of the deepest drafts at the top end in recent history. While the number one overall pick is rather a clear cut, picks two through five are all prospected as top-end talent. This scenario leaves Houston in an advantageous spot, with options to trade out if another team is willing to match their wants or picking from a pool of three to four top-end young talents.

Kevin Porter JR.

In addition to the second overall pick, the rockets saw some young talent emerge late in the season. One notable contributor down the stretch was Kevin Porter JR. Now, the acquisition of Porter JR has no transactional connection to the James Harden trade (ie, he wasn’t a part of it). With that said, something tells me Kevin Porter’s emergence (and maybe even trading for him) would not have taken place if James Harden was on the team.

Close to the end of the season, Houston traded for a disgruntled Porter Jr for a protected second-round pick. While this barely cracked most sports page headlines, Houston fans were quietly growing excited after quickly looking up his youtube highlights.

Quickly into his rockets career, Porter JR did not disappoint. Playing in twenty-six games for Houston, he averaged 16.6 PPG, 6.3 APG, 3.8 RPG which is a significant improvement compared to his time spent in Clevland. In addition to respectable averages, Porter often lead and ran the second-team offense, and his season highs in points and assists really set the expectations for his potential in coming years (50 points along with 10 assists against the Bucks and 14 assists against the Suns).

Toward the end of the season, Houston Rockets fans were claiming on Twitter Porter Jr was the second coming of Harden, and Porter JR seemingly embraced the fans right back. Hopefully, Porter Jr can stay on the straight and narrow and help Houston revamp in the coming years.

It is certainly hard for any fan base to be positive after something like the Harden trade happens to their team. With that being said, I think Houston’s future is bright and filled with options and certainly draft picks.

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