James Harden recently logged in his first preseason game for the new-look Houston Rockets. He has stood firm in his desire to be traded, although I do believe that the Rockets front office will stand their ground as long as they can, and see if they can rack up the wins with their new-look squad.
Reports have it that Harden’s preferred trade destinations are the Milwaukee Bucks, Miami Heat, Brooklyn Nets, and the Philadelphia 76ers. All of these mentioned teams are in the East, so it’s obvious that Harden wants to avoid the likes of LeBron James or Steph Curry in his path towards an elusive championship.
As for the Sixers, it’s flattering that a former MVP still in his prime would want to play for them. Earlier this past decade, Philly was the laughingstock of the league. Early injuries from Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons cast doubts in their trust in the process, but they have bounced back and have become a serious contender in the East.
Every team would salivate for another star. Success in the NBA is often traced to the number of All-Stars in a team. But what does it take for the Sixers to land Harden? Two words. Ben Simmons. Should the Sixers then let go of their budding superstar to nab a 30-point scoring machine? My answer is no, and here’s a couple of reasons why.
Simmons’ growing versatility on defense
Simmons is coming off two consecutive All-Star appearances. Despite his limitations on offense, you can’t just ignore what Simmons can bring to the table in today’s positionless basketball. On offense, he is a tremendous passer, a powerful force in transition, and a smart off-ball cutter who positions himself well inside the paint.
But it is his work on the defensive end that will make the Sixers regret if they traded him. Simmons normed a career-best 2.1 steals per contest last season. The mobility and instinct that come with his 6-foot-10 length are two irreplaceable assets that would solidify any team’s defense.
But it’s not just all physical prowess for Simmons. He understands that his ability to defend all five positions doesn’t come often, so he exerts tremendous effort to help the Sixers on that end of the floor. I do think that his offense will catch up soon, but Simmons’ superb defensive ability is once-in-a-blue-moon stuff.
Harden’s leadership issues
Harden just turned 31 last August. This is quite surprising for many as Harden hasn’t shown any signs of decline in his game. Well, he is not like Dwyane Wade or a Derrick Rose whose hard-banging games eventually caught up with their health. Harden is more of a finesse player, so I don’t think that his age is an issue.
But his leadership ability remains in question. His antics this offseason are just unacceptable, especially considering the fact that the Rockets front office did everything they could to give the team the best opportunity to topple the heavily-favored Golden State Warriors.
You can also see it in the way that he approaches the Rockets’ system. Tim McMahon reported that Chris Paul was ultimately disappointed when Harden would just stand far from the half-court set when the ball is not in his hands. Russell Westbrook didn’t like Harden’s lacking sense of punctuality.
Is this the type of franchise player you would have after trading away an all-around 24-year old star brimming with potential? I just don’t think that a Simmons-Harden swap will be worth it for the Sixers, let alone giving future first-rounders to the Rockets.