The 2020-21 NBA season begins in eight days. The season would be nearly two months old in a normal year, but we know 2020 is anything but a normal year.
The Houston Rockets have been difficult to peg from a betting perspective in the run-up to the new campaign. Betting sites have been bearish on the Rockets’ prospects for this season thanks to all of the uncertainty swirling around the franchise. This offseason has already seen the departures of Russell Westbrook, Mike D’Antoni, and Daryl Morey. While new arrivals like John Wall, Stephen Silas, and DeMarcus Cousins may have Rockets fans feeling optimistic about the team’s chances to defy the odds, the James Harden situation is looming over everything.
Harden has reportedly told the Rockets’ brass that he wants a trade. While Brooklyn and Philadelphia are high on Harden’s wish list, the Rockets have insisted that the former league MVP won’t be moved unless the team is blown away by a trade offer. So far, no team has been able to meet the Rockets’ lofty expectations.
Harden has reported to the team to begin working out before the new season begins, but he is still focused on getting out of Houston. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Monday that Harden would still prefer to be traded, and that the idea of teaming up with Wall hasn’t resonated enough to get him to alter that stance.
While it remains to be seen whether Harden finds a new home this season, BetOnline is currently taking bets on which team will trade for the Beard. It’s still unclear whether the Rockets will acquiesce to their star’s wishes before the season begins, but the list of prospective suitors is an interesting one. Which team makes the most sense as the best bet to trade for Harden?
Los Angeles Clippers (+1800)
The Clippers were preseason darlings last summer after trading for Paul George and signing Kawhi Leonard in free agency. LAC wound up finishing with the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference before their disappointing elimination at the hands of the Nuggets in the second round of the playoffs. That led to the firing of Doc Rivers, but most of the team’s roster remained intact.
The clock may be ticking on the Clips’ championship window. Leonard has the ability to opt-out of his deal after this season. If LA endures another early playoff exit, it’s no guarantee that Kawhi will decide to stick around. So, it’s on the Clippers to make the most of what may be their final opportunity to win a ring with Leonard in the fold.
All-Star forward Paul George has signed a maximum contract extension with the Los Angeles Clippers that’ll guarantee him as much as $226 million over the next five years, his agent Aaron Mintz of @CAA_Basketball tells ESPN.
LAC reportedly asked the Rockets about a trade for Harden before ultimately snagging George from Oklahoma City last summer. Houston wasn’t willing to consider a Harden trade back then, but the circumstances have obviously changed. George just signed an extension with the Clippers last week, though, which means the team will not be able to trade him until next offseason at the earliest.
Because the Clips likely can’t entice the Rockets into a Harden trade without dangling PG-13, the chances of LAC landing Harden before the summer of 2021 appear non-existent. Parting ways with Leonard is surely a non-starter for the Clippers.
As a result of the George extension, the Clips aren’t a realistic suitor for Harden in the short term. Things could change if Harden is still in Houston by the time next summer rolls around, but the chances of that happening seem to get slimmer by the day. Pass on the Clippers being Harden’s next team at +1800.
Milwaukee Bucks (+1000)
Last week, it was reported that Harden had the Milwaukee Bucks on his list of teams to which he would accept a trade. The Bucks have yet to win a title with Giannis Antetokounmpo in the mix despite having the league’s best overall record over the past two seasons combined. With Antetokounmpo potentially headed for free agency following this season, the Bucks’ front office is hell-bent on capitalizing on their chances with the Greek Freak under contract.
Earlier this offseason, the Bucks broke the bank to bring Jrue Holiday to Milwaukee. The Bucks parted ways with three future first-round picks in the trade. Holiday will be an upgrade over Eric Bledsoe, but Holiday is no Harden. Had the Bucks known that Harden could potentially be available, it’s worth wondering whether they would have been so eager to sell the farm for Holiday when they did.
Regardless, it’s hard to imagine the Bucks have enough ammunition to tempt the Rockets into a Harden trade. Khris Middleton is a fine starting point, but it’s going to take a whole lot more than that in order to pair Antetokounmpo with Harden. Without a bunch of draft assets at their disposal, Milwaukee would likely have to find a willing third team to join the trade and help meet the Rockets’ expectations when it comes to future draft considerations. Frankly, it’s hard to imagine another team being willing to help the Bucks trade for Harden.
Houston is also hoping to nab a high-upside young prospect in any Harden deal. Other than Donte DiVincenzo, who seems to be more of a role player than a future All-Star, the Bucks’ roster isn’t exactly laden with quality young talent. As much as the Bucks may love the idea of luring Harden and tempting Giannis into staying, it doesn’t look like a particularly likely outcome at this point. The Bucks don’t seem to be a viable betting option here at +1000.
Denver Nuggets (+900)
Fresh off of an unexpected berth in the Western Conference Finals, the Nuggets are running it back this season. Save for Jerami Grant, who departed for greener pastures in Detroit, this is basically the same team we saw just a few months ago. JaMychal Green will take some of Grant’s vacated frontcourt minutes, while Michael Porter Jr. will surely play a bigger role in his third season.
The Nuggets have a bona fide superstar in Nikola Jokic, while Porter and Jamal Murray are a couple of high-upside youngsters. Porter has a long way to go on the defensive end of the floor, but his combination of offensive skills and size make him a potential future All-Star. Still only 22, Porter is easily the Nuggets’ most desirable trade piece this side of Jokic. Murray is still just 23 himself, and expectations for him are high after his outstanding performance in the bubble earlier this summer.
Porter seems to be exactly the type of prospect the Rockets would be looking for in a Harden trade package. The Nuggets would also likely have to move Gary Harris, whose stock has tanked following a promising start to his career. Perhaps a change of scenery would do the 26-year-old some good. Harris may have slightly more value thanks to his age than Will Barton (29), but at least one of them is necessary in a Nuggets-Rockets trade to make the money work.
Murray-Porter-Harris works in terms of salary if Harden is the only player heading from Houston to Denver. The Nuggets would also likely have to give up a few future draft assets in order to sweeten the pot.
Would the Nuggets’ brass be willing to make that deal in order to form the Jokic-Harden “Big Two?”
We also don’t know whether Harden would welcome a trade to Denver. While Harden doesn’t have a no-trade clause, the Nuggets would presumably balk at parting ways with that kind of trade haul if Harden indicates that he isn’t interested in staying in the Mile High City long-term. There hasn’t been any mention of the Nuggets as a potentially serious suitor for Harden, nor has there been talk of Harden’s potential willingness to sign with Denver.
While the Nuggets are a fit in terms of what they can offer to the Rockets, the other hang-ups make Denver a risky betting option. You’re getting good value in the risk given the +900 odds, but I can’t recommend betting anything more than a low-dollar flier on the Nuggets at this point.
Boston Celtics (+750)
If there’s a superstar on the trade market, you can bet the Celtics will inevitably emerge as a hypothetical suitor. Boston has seemingly been linked with every disgruntled star in the league over the last several years, but their track record when it comes to actually making trades is highly suspect. Boston plucked Kyrie Irving out of Cleveland back in 2017, only to see him leave for Brooklyn a couple of years later.
Jayson Tatum isn’t going anywhere, which means Boston’s Harden offer would almost surely start with Jaylen Brown. Brown is another guy that fits the bill in terms of what the Rockets should be looking for. He’s a bit overshadowed in Boston, but he’s still coming off a season in which he averaged 20.3 points and better than six rebounds per game. Still only 24, Brown likely has several All-Star Games in his future.
NBA Rumors: Boston Celtics Should Risk It All And Create A Big Three With James Harden
Boston would also likely have to deal Marcus Smart, who has emerged as the heart and soul of the Celtics over the past couple of years. Brown and Smart is a nice starting point, but those two by themselves won’t be enough to nab Harden. First-round rookie Aaron Nesmith could be of some interest to Houston. Is Brown/Smart/Nesmith plus a bunch of future draft picks enough for the Rockets?
Eastern Conference teams have dominated Harden’s reported wish list, but we haven’t heard the Celtics mentioned among them. Teaming up with a young star like Tatum could appeal to Harden, but Danny Ainge has been reluctant to go all-in when it comes to trading for stars in the past. Would Ainge be willing to sacrifice what little depth his roster has in exchange for a superstar? It’s possible, but Denver just seems like the slightly better option among the teams with longer odds of acquiring Harden.
You can never rule the Celtics out, but the fit here is questionable.
Philadelphia 76ers (+350)
Daryl Morey was the man that brought Harden to Houston from Oklahoma City back in 2012. Harden’s career has been on a Hall of Fame trajectory ever since. Morey left Houston for Philadelphia earlier this offseason thanks in large part to a poor relationship between Morey and the Rockets’ owner, Tilman Fertitta.
Harden would reportedly like a reunion with Morey in Philly. The problem is that Morey isn’t interested in dealing Joel Embiid or Ben Simmons to Houston in exchange for Harden.
The 76ers don’t have enough assets to get Harden without including one of their young stars, which leaves the trade talks at an impasse. The Rockets have also allegedly asked the Sixers for three future first-rounders in any trade package, which may wind up souring Morey on the idea even further.
Morey has built the Sixers’ roster this offseason to try and maximize the strengths of his two young All-Stars. While Harden would represent an upgrade over Simmons in the short term, the age discrepancy between the two is likely the main factor keeping Morey from pulling the trigger on any trade. Simmons is seven years younger than Harden, who will turn 32 next summer. Simmons is far from perfect in this day and age of pace-and-space, but trading for Harden likely shortens Philly’s long-term title window.
Without moving Simmons, the Sixers have no shot at landing Harden. If Philadelphia gets off to a lackluster start this season, perhaps Morey would warm to the idea of making the move. The Simmons/Embiid duo hasn’t advanced beyond the second round of the playoffs to this point. While Morey can shuffle the complementary pieces all he wants, it’s still worth wondering whether the Sixers have already reached their ceiling with Simmons and Embiid together.
76ers Are a Solid Bet:
Because Harden is still likely to remain a Rocket through the beginning of the season, I think the 76ers are worth a shot as a bet here at +350. It’s not impossible to think that the Sixers could seek to shake things up if they get off to a rocky start, and we know Harden would welcome a trade to Philadelphia. You can do a lot worse than betting on the Sixers to be Harden’s landing spot at +350.
Toronto Raptors (+350)
We saw just a couple of years ago that Masai Ujiri is willing to shoot for the moon. Ujiri made the controversial decision to trade for Kawhi Leonard despite the fact that Leonard had just one year left on his contract. Kawhi did wind up fleeing Toronto after just one season, but the team just so happened to win the title that year. While Leonard left the Raps for nothing, winning a championship meant the trade was worth the risk for Toronto.
Would Ujiri be willing to roll the dice again? The Raptors enjoyed a solid regular season in 2019-20, but they were ousted in the second round of the playoffs by the up-and-coming Celtics. With Boston, Miami, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, and Brooklyn all looming as potential Finals teams in the East, do the Raptors have enough to make it back to the Finals as presently constructed? Unlikely.
NBA Rumors: Boston Celtics Should Risk It All And Create A Big Three With James Harden
The Raps were also dealt a blow up front when both Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol left as free agents this offseason. Stars don’t appear on the trading block very often, so you can bet that Ujiri will pick up the phone and gauge Houston’s interest. The problem is that the Raptors may not have enough ammunition. Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet are likely Toronto’s most appealing trade chips. Trading either or both of them would leave the Raptors’ roster beyond Harden looking incredibly thin.
Toronto has been elite in terms of player development over the years, but Ujiri added Kawhi to a team that was already a readymade contender. The roster around Harden would not be nearly as imposing, so it’s pretty unlikely that Ujiri would be able to catch lightning in a bottle for a second time. And, if the Raptors don’t win a title after acquiring Harden, their chances of convincing him to re-sign would appear pretty slim.
The Raptors’ odds are likely this high because of Ujiri’s willingness to take risks. This just doesn’t seem like a match, though.
Brooklyn Nets (+275)
We know that Harden’s preferred destination is Brooklyn. Harden wants to reunite in New York with his former teammate in Oklahoma City, Kevin Durant. The idea is that Harden, Durant, and Kyrie Irving could team up and become the next superstar trio to dominate the league.
The Nets do have some interesting trade pieces, including Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Joe Harris. Unlike Toronto, Brooklyn could easily trade all of those young assets and still have enough talent left on the roster to build a contender around Harden. Adding Harden to Durant and Irving would make Brooklyn the presumptive favorite to win the Eastern Conference, if not the NBA title.
The Problem Is That the Rockets Want More Than the Nets Can Offer
Brooklyn hasn’t been willing to include Irving in any offer, and the Rockets have reportedly balked at the idea of trading for Kyrie in the first place. So, if the Nets are to trade for Harden, they will almost surely need a third team to enter the picture and bolster their offer.
Of course, there likely aren’t many other teams out there that would be willing to fork over a prized young player in order to help facilitate a trade that would turn the Nets into frontrunners. LeVert/Allen/Dinwiddie is a nice core for a trade, but you can debate whether any of those guys meets the “future All-Star” requirement the Rockets are reportedly seeking.
Still, Brooklyn can at least amass the semblance of a haul that could entice the Rockets into making a deal. You can’t say that about the vast majority of the teams on this list, and Harden’s preference for Brooklyn is enough to make the Nets one of the more likely destinations. The odds are still very attackable at +275, especially considering they could continue to dip from here. Take advantage of these odds while they’re still available.
Miami Heat (+250)
Miami is automatically atop the list of preferred destinations for just about every player in basketball. The Heat wouldn’t have been able to add LeBron James and Chris Bosh a decade ago if the team didn’t happen to call Miami home. South Beach is right there with Los Angeles as the most attractive market in the league.
If the Heat make a play for Harden, you can bet he’d be interested in staying there long-term. Miami is fresh off of a Finals appearance, too, which doesn’t hurt. Jimmy Butler won’t be going anywhere, and it’s safe to assume that Pat Riley wouldn’t be willing to give up Bam Adebayo in a potential trade, either.
That’s the problem. You can start with Tyler Herro, but what else do the Heat have that could get the Rockets to the negotiating table? Duncan Robinson is a nice player, but hardly a future star. Kendrick Nunn is a bit redundant with Herro, while guys like Kelly Olynyk, Avery Bradley, and Meyers Leonard have minimal trade value. Harden can push for a trade to Miami all he wants, but the Heat are unlikely to be able to meet the Rockets’ lofty asking price if Adebayo isn’t the first player in the deal for Houston.
As a result, the Heat look a bit overvalued as the odds-on favorites here. I’ve learned to never doubt Riley’s ability to pull a rabbit out of a hat, but Miami really just doesn’t have the pieces to get a deal done without putting Bam on the table. Bet on Brooklyn (+275) or Philadelphia (+350) landing Harden before you take a shot on Miami at +250.
Taylor Smith has been a staff writer with GamblingSites.org since early 2017. Taylor is primarily a sports writer, though he will occasionally dabble in other things like politics and entertainment betting. His primary specialties are writing about the NBA, Major League Baseball, NFL and domestic and international soccer. Fringe sports like golf and horse racing aren’t exactly his cup of tea, bu …