We’re a little under 10 hours until the tip-off of the 2020-21 NBA season. The Houston Rockets don’t get underway until Wednesday. Will they play their first game with or without James Harden? Who knows at this point. What we do know is that tensions are high in Houston between Harden and teammates, per The Athletic’s Shams Charania.
Harden reported to the Rockets at training camp back on Dec. 8 and wanted to keep things civil, per Shams. It didn’t take long for things to get not-so-civil with Harden clearly wanting out of Houston to play on a contending team. The Rockets have been stubborn about trading away Harden and not getting top dollar for him. That’s what happens when you let a player control your entire franchise for eight years.
According to Shams, there were multiple altercations involving Harden and teammates on Sunday and Monday, one of which was Harden throwing a basketball at rookie Jae’Sean Tate. The ball apparently did not hit Tate but clearly the message was sent. The Rockets open the season against Harden’s former team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, on Wednesday night at 8:00 p.m. ET.
Over the course of the past few months, Harden has been heavily linked to two teams — the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers. Reports have stated that nothing has gotten close for either team in terms of a deal for Harden, mostly because the asking price is insane and there’s no guarantee Harden will stick around past his current deal (which is for this season, 2021-22, and a player option for 2022-23). Other teams who have emerged as potential landing spots are the Miami Heat and Milwaukee Bucks.
Knowing what we know about Harden’s lifestyle and ambitions, Miami sort of makes the most sense. They have the cap space to fit in Harden and have the assets to give back to Houston in return. You’d like to think a player like Jimmy Butler can keep Harden in check and focused on the ultimate goal — a championship. With that said, Butler and Harden both have strong personalities and it may not work out. We also know Pat Riley won’t give the keys to the franchise to Harden, so he’d have to buy-in while not ruining himself in Miami’s nightlife.
If we’re looking outside the actual impact, the fantasy basketball impact could be sort of big. Harden (appears) to be starting the season on a team that probably doesn’t like him very much right now. First-year coach Stephen Silas seems fed up with the whole ordeal, answering questions about The Beard when he should be answering questions about how his first training camp is going. The Rockets aren’t expected to do much with or without Harden, bringing in two washed-up former All-Stars in John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins along with an upside forward in Christian Wood.
If Harden is dealt, it will most likely be to a situation where he can’t have the ball ALL the time. It’s still James Harden but it isn’t hero ball every night James Harden. So I think if you drafted Harden, there’s definitely some risk there. With that said, he could land in a decent situation and be just fine most nights. If he stays in Houston, there’s no way things end well. The worst case scenario is some type of holdout or suspension, though the Rockets probably don’t have the stones to suspend Harden.