A popular topic that I’ve tossed around on Twitter over the past few days has been the idea of Atlanta getting in on the James Harden sweepstakes. If you haven’t been keeping up with the drama lately, it appears Harden wants out of Houston. He finally showed back up to the team facilities after missing activities in favor of attending strip clubs, but it’s clear he’s not 100% committed to the Rockets, and he’s given management a list of teams he would like to be traded to. The Hawks are not among the teams on his preferred destinations… yet, but it would be interesting to see if it is something he would consider.
Harden doesn’t have a no-trade clause; however, with just two years guaranteed left on his current contract, most teams wouldn’t be willing to part ways with the assets it would take to acquire him without some sense that he would like to re-sign. Still, that hasn’t stopped small market teams from making bold decisions before, just think about the Raptors acquiring Kawhi Leonard a couple of years ago. He may have not re-upped with Toronto, but he still brought the city a championship and will be remembered as a legend forever in Canada. If the Hawks feel in the slightest that they may be able to convince Harden to commit over the next two years, they might be willing to pull the trigger.
I’m not necessarily shocked, given the amount of hate and attention that has been shined on Harden’s playoff performances, but I’m still a little bit baffled by just how many fans seem to think Harden wouldn’t work in Atlanta.
I understand… Trae Young and James Harden generally require the ball in their hands to be effective. However, they are both electric passers, and we’ve seen high-usage players gel together and achieve success at the highest level. Offensively, I don’t think there would be any issues at all. These two guys would get and create buckets for days, becoming a nightmare for the entire league to guard. There would be no stopping a starting five of Trae Young, James Harden, Bogdan Bogdanović, Danilo Gallinari, and Clint Capela from scoring at least 110 points a game.
Defensively, I understand the concerns. A backcourt of Young and Harden would be impossible to stop, but it might also be the worst defensive backcourt in the game. I’ll give Harden a bit of credit; his defense isn’t as bad as it used to be. However, it would still be a problem that Lloyd Pierce would have to mask.
The other concern for the Hawks, of course, would be the asking price. We’ve seen the Rockets demand superstars like Ben Simmons and Kyrie Irving in return, and Houston is in no rush to deal Harden. In fact, they’ve stated that they would ultimately like to work something out and convince him to stay.
Any package the Rockets would be interested in from the Hawks would have to center around John Collins. Then Houston would likely ask for key building blocks like Cam Reddish and Onyeka Okungwu. If that’s not enough, the Rockets could even push for guys like Kevin Huerter and De’Andre Hunter as well. I firmly believe Travis Schlenk has the pieces to pique the interest of Houston; however, I’m not so sure he’d be willing to give up his entire young core to acquire Harden.
This is why general managers get paid the big bucks. After the Hawks flurry of moves in free agency, Travis Schlenk admitted his team was in a position to make a move for a superstar if the right one were to become available. Now, one of the best players in the league and a former MVP is on the block.
Even though 90% of fans — for whatever reason — may be against making a move for such a polarizing superstar like Harden, they aren’t the ones that ultimately decide whether or not to pull the trigger. Travis Schlenk must evaluate whether two high-usage players that are below-average defenders could make up for it with incredible offensive output; whether it is worth risking an entire rebuild to bring in a player that could arguably go down as the best in franchise history. There is no way of knowing until the two play on the same court together in the same jerseys, but it certainly has to be something Schlenk, and other GMs of smaller market teams with talented young cores are considering.