Three Eastern Conference non-contenders that should trade for James Harden

James Harden dribbling
Will a surprise team jump into the James Harden trade sweepstakes? Photo from Sports Illustrated.

The 2020/21 NBA season is underway, but James Harden trade rumors refuse to wane. Harden is taking to the court on a depleted Houston Rockets team, and has admitted he’s not in game shape. Yet, the former MVP continues to put up gaudy numbers.

Harden has expanded his list of possible destinations. It started as the Nets and Sixers – now the Bucks, Celtics, Blazers and Heat are acceptable, though Miami has reportedly decided against a trade.

It’s a matter of when, not if, the Rockets deal Harden at this point. That could change if Houston gets hot with John Wall, Christian Wood and DeMarcus Cousins, but the Rockets, according to reports, are looking to move Harden sooner rather than later.

The focus is on teams already set to contend. Here are three non-contenders in the East who could swing big on Harden…

Pacers

The Indiana Pacers are among the most consistent teams in the NBA. They are once again destined for a mid-to-low seeding in the East. It would be wildly out of franchise character to swing a trade for Harden, but that doesn’t mean they should rule it out.

A deal centered around Victor Oladipo probably depends on Houston being able to re-sign him. He also needs to continue his early season standards – Oladipo is looking back towards his All-Star best.

The other option is to throw in Domantas Sabonis. Maybe Houston ask for both. Sabonis isn’t an obvious fit with Harden, but he’s playing at the level of a franchise star (which is what the Rockets are looking for).

Oladipo plus Sabonis or Sabonis plus T.J. Warren and TJ McConnell works salary-wise. A Myles Turner trade may seem more likely, but his value is lower and he’s a better fit alongside Harden.


Indiana has the players and picks to get a deal done. Harden with Malcolm Brogdon, Turner and possibly Warren is a legitimate contender in the East.

Magic

Off to the first 4-0 start in franchise history, the Orlando Magic are feeling pretty good right now. Are they feeling confident enough to go all-in with a Harden trade?

Just as when Orlando was mooted as a Russell Westbrook destination, this likely depends on how the Rockets view Aaron Gordon. If Houston see Gordon as a player they can build around, and maybe develop into an All-Star, could a bevy of picks, Gordon, Evan Fournier and Cole Anthony be enough to force a deal through? Maybe Mo Bamba could be thrown in, too.

The Magic don’t become East favorites with Harden, Nikola Vucevic, Markelle Fultz and Terrence Ross, but this is a trade that vaults them towards that top six group. Add Jonathan Isaac next season and they could be a real threat.

Bulls

The big salaries of Otto Porter, Zach LaVine and Thaddeus Young make it easy to construct a deal. Houston would likely want LaVine plus stuff here (and LaVine becomes expendable if you’ve got Harden).

Wendell Carter and Lauri Markkanen have seen their stock fall. Coby White is a desirable asset. Trying to justify this deal depends on how many young players Chicago would have to give up.

If it’s two of White, Carter, Markkanen and Patrick Williams in the trade with LaVine, there are still sufficient pieces on the roster to put a competitive team around Harden.

Harden, White, Porter, Williams and Carter is a strong five. It’s not winning it all in 2021, but it elevates the Bulls back to the playoffs for the first time since 2017. That could be a very good team in a year or two.

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About Sam Cox 566 Articles
Sam is a widely published freelance writer, covering basketball, baseball and a range of other sports. He's still trying to decide if he prefers a rundown shot block or a smooth double play.

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