Three Dark Horse Trade Destinations For James Harden

His comments in China change things quite a bit on the trade front.
James Harden
James Harden / Maddie Meyer/GettyImages

The James Harden/Philadelphia 76ers standoff took quite a turn this morning when Harden unexpectedly announced to a crowd in China that GM Daryl Morey was a "liar" and Harden would never be part of an organization Morey works for again. Obviously things were not good between Harden and Philly considering he asked for a trade over a month ago and there was such little movement that the Sixers leaked they planned to keep Harden and just make it work over the weekend. But calling out Morey by name like that is something we've never seen, even in this dramatic age of superstar-driven trades the NBA has lived in for years now.

It never felt like there was much hope for reconciliation between the two sides. Now it is clear the relationship has not simply deteroriated. It is gone. And the trade market shifts as a result.

Before today, not many teams were interested in Harden because the Sixers wanted a superstar-level haul for a guy who is still quite good but not worth his $36 million price tag (much less the pricy extension he wanted from any trade partner) and is coming off another playoff flameout in a career chock-full of them. Now, however, new parties will likely enter the arena in an attempt to get Harden on the cheap because it feels like the Sixers have to move him before training camp. If he is willing to call his GM a liar in August, what is he going to do when practices and games start? It seems he's not going to be like Ben Simmons and quietly stay away.

While Harden has his problems there should be a few teams interested in his services if Philly just wants to be rid of him and move on. When Harden first made his trade request, we named the Clippers, Heat, and Celtics as possible suitors. Now that free agency has come and gone the landscape has changed; the Clippers should still be in the running, but Miami and Boston definitely are not. Harden's comments made it change even more.

Here are a few dark horse destinations for the All-Star point guard.

New York Knicks

The Knicks are perhaps not that much of a dark horse team since they were linked to Harden when the trade demand became public a month ago but a possible destination they remain. Since then New York locked up Donte DiVincenzo and Josh Hart to reasonable four-year deals. Harden didn't go to Villanova like them but along with Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle there is an interesting roster for Harden to join. The Knicks will always be on the hunt for stars to play in Madison Square Garden and his offensive firepower would help an offense that got bogged down from time to time last year.

The likelihood of this deal hinges pretty much entirely on what the Knicks think about RJ Barrett. If they believe that he maxes out as an inefficient and inconsistent three-and-D wing, then trading him now to get out from the four-year, $120 million contract that kicks in next season makes a lot of sense. Combine him with Evan Fournier and that is enough money to make the deal work as long as the Sixers throw in a minor contract along with Harden's. Philly gets the sort of player they want around Joel Embiid and wash their hands of the situation. The Knicks get out from Barrett's deal, get Harden for a year, and have a lot more options going forward. Both sides could talk themselves into this one.

Utah Jazz

The idea of James Harden in Utah is too funny to not consider. And it would sort of make sense given Danny Ainge's love of a good deal. The Jazz are probably at the top of the category of teams who would be fine with getting Harden, convincing him to try his best for half a season, then sending him off at the deadline. They're playing the long game up in Utah with all those Minnesota draft picks in the wings so taking a risk by bringing in a disgruntled star could end up being worthwhile.

The only player on Utah's roster who is untouchable is probably Lauri Markkannen so they could cook up a package around Collin Sexton and Kelly Olynyk. A poor return for Harden but one Philadelphia might have to make if things get bad enough. At that point Harden might be desperate enough to greenlight the trade and get to where he wants to go at the deadline. Not outside the realm of possibility.

Chicago Bulls

There is no clear reason why the Bulls would want to do this, which is in line with their decision-making of the last three years and thus cannot be ruled out. In theory one can see the vision. In the brief period of time when Lonzo Ball's knees were intact while in Chicago, their offense hummed thanks to his facilitating abilities. He's not coming back anytime soon so replacing his passing ability with Harden's would be pretty ideal offensively. They are not going to compete but Chicago is a major city so Harden should be fine with going there.

The tricky part is cooking up a trade package. The only way a deal would really work here is if Chicago shipped out DeMar DeRozan and Patrick Williams for Harden. The Sixers should be ecstatic with that return, as it gives them additional scoring for Embiid in addition to a decent enough defender with room to grow. The Bulls lose DeRozan, really the only fun part about their recent path, but get to pay Zach LaVine and Harden a combined $75 million to put up big offensive numbers. It makes no sense to us but the Bulls are not interested in making moves that are logical. They are content to pay money to whoever will help them stay relatively competitive. And thus this deal would make sense for them and for Philly if everything else falls apart. Which it might. Soon.