One of the biggest trades in NBA history went down on Wednesday, as the Houston Rockets finally put an end to their James Harden saga by sending him to the Brooklyn Nets in a blockbuster four-team deal. But sadly for these three teams, they weren’t able to be the ones to land The Beard, or at least acquire other pieces from that swap.
Before Harden ultimately landed in Brooklyn to reunite with Kevin Durant and join Kyrie Irving, he had a list of preferred destinations in mind even before the start of the 2020-21 campaign. While the one-time MVP does come with a notorious reputation and some excess baggage with him, there’s no denying that he is still one of the most unguardable offensive players the league has ever seen. Every team in the league would have been better (on paper, at least) had they been the ones to acquire the disgruntled superstar.
Of course, there’s no point in crying over spilled milk. Still, these three franchises are probably kicking themselves considering they actually had a shot at landing The Beard. Let’s have a look at the three teams that screwed up for not trading for James Harden before the Nets.
1. Philadelphia 76ers
Shortly after James Harden proclaimed that the Rockets were “unfixable,” most pundits already pegged him to be in a Sixers jersey in the coming days. Apart from the Nets, the 31-year-old megastar also had The City of Brotherly Love at the top of his list considering his relationship with Philly’s new president of basketball operations Daryl Morey.
Turns out, they were extremely close to pairing Harden with superstar center Joel Embiid after offering their own All-Star Ben Simmons along with promising rookie Tyrese Maxey and a string of draft picks in a mammoth package.
The only problem was, the Rockets did not bite. Houston knew they could get an even larger haul elsewhere, and that’s exactly what they did. Sure, Simmons is arguably more valuable than Victor Oladipo at the moment, whom Houston got as the centerpiece of that Harden trade. But H-Town did receive two role players in Dante Exum and Rodions Kurucs, as well as three unprotected first-round picks and four additional pick swaps from Brooklyn.
The Sixers certainly could not match that and reportedly even tried to remove Maxey’s name in the conversation.
Had Morey and the Sixers front office not skimped out on the future picks and agreed to include Maxey then maybe he could have been the one re-uniting with his superstar player. Plus, it remains to be seen how Simmons will respond after hearing his name on the now botched deal. The Australian point-forward is reportedly ecstatic that he remains in Philly, but we’ll have to wait and see if this could have repercussions for the Sixers moving forward.
Philly does have something good going on at the moment, holding the second spot in the East with an 8-4 slate. Acquiring Harden could have had a negative impact on their team chemistry. Then again, he could as easily have been the piece that separates them from the rest of the East contenders. Guess we’ll never know.
2. Miami Heat
Apart from Philly, the Miami Heat was also included in Harden’s trade wish list. His potential fit with the Heat culture and their philosophy of team basketball has been the subject of debates since then, but no doubt the Heat do need all the help they can get at the moment. After that Cinderella run last year where they emerged as the unlikely 2020 Eastern Conference champions, Miami has not looked like the same world-beaters. They currently have a 4-5 slate (10th in the East).
A lot of doubters still consider Miami’s terrific bubble season as a fluke and their poor start in 2020-21 does not help their case at all. Harden could have probably turned their fortunes around had he landed in South Beach. The eight-time All-Star would have given them a reliable go-to scorer on a nightly basis, something that they sorely lack at the moment. His deficiencies on the other end of the floor wouldn’t be much of an issue considering he would have played alongside Jimmy Butler.
Multiple reports have suggested that the Rockets would have considered dealing Harden to the Heat if up-and-coming star Tyler Herro was part of the package. The Kentucky alum, after all, certainly impressed with his spectacular play in last year’s postseason and his strong start to his sophomore campaign so far. But looks like the Heat is keen on holding on to him and seeing just how good he can be, even if it meant missing out on Harden.
3. Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks’ biggest worry is now behind them after persuading superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo to sign that super-max extension. However, they still have yet to make that game-changing move to give the reigning back-to-back MVP more superstar help. They missed out on that chance by not going for broke in acquiring Harden when the Rockets were actively shopping him around.
The Bucks actually had one of the most enticing assets to offer for Harden, considering a package involving Khris Middleton, Donte DiVincenzo, DJ Wilson, and Pat Connaughton would have match the salaries. Plus, they had some future picks to spare to sweeten the pot.
Milwaukee, however, remained uninterested with this potential deal even when Harden added him to his list of preferred destinations. Looks like they stood by that decision and did not even attempt to throw their hat in the ring. The Bucks are once again off to a strong start this season (7-4) and continues to be one of the biggest threats in the East. However, they were in the same boat the last two seasons and we all know how that turned out.
Milwaukee would have no doubt rolled the dice had they put all their eggs behind James Harden. But maybe that’s just what they need to finally get over that hump.