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Why a Harden Trade Both Makes Sense and Doesn’t at the Same Time

There are rare moments in the NBA where a top-five talent wants out of the organization they currently play for. At some of these junctures, teams are able to capitalize on the moment and swing a deal that could be potentially franchise altering, in the good way.

The Toronto Raptors taken one of these gambles on a disgruntled star, and it’s safe to say it worked out fairly well for them. Other teams have been less fortunate, as teams like the New York Knicks swung for Carmelo Anthony in 2011, had a couple good seasons, and never reached the NBA Finals despite the trade.

In the spectrum of Kawhi to the Raptors and Melo to the Knicks, where does a potential Harden to the Raptors trade land? The safe answer is to say somewhere in the middle.

The Case For Harden to Toronto

Harden is one of the most prolific offensive players in history on a statistic level. He’s been extremely durable throughout his career, rarely missing significant time due to injuries. A triple double machine, extremely deadly in isolation, a certified number one scoring option at the highest level.

Adding Harden to the Raptors effectively erases one of the team’s biggest weaknesses. Harden’s ability to create in the half-court would’ve been extremely helpful in the postseason against Boston, who loaded up on Pascal Siakam in his first postseason as the team’s first scoring option.

Admittedly, Harden’s postseason history isn’t exactly favourable after many playoff blunders. Still, it would be interesting to see how Nick Nurse implements a guy of Harden’s offensive capabilities into the offence.

If Nurse can figure out how to implement a guy of Kawhi Leonard’s calibre into the Toronto offence, there’s no doubt he can figure it out if Harden’s on the roster.

The Case Against Harden to Toronto

Nathaniel S. Butler / NBAE / Getty Images

Harden’s not the greatest defender. His offensive production often costs his defence to be lacklustre at times. For a team that has valued and prioritized defensive versatility and ability, it’s not exactly a perfect fit.

On offence, Harden has developed into a heavy isolation usage scorer, which again isn’t exactly a match made in heaven for the Raptors who like to play a free-flowing, pass-heavy style.

Harden would have to be willing to have a lot more looks off-ball, which is something we can’t be certain Harden would be willing to accept.

What Would it Cost?

The matter of how much it would cost to acquire Harden is really up to Houston and their comfortability of playing out an entire season with this uncertainty looming across the organization.

In reality, Houston has the leverage over Harden due to his contract. He has a player option for the 2022-23 season, and can opt out at the conclusion of the 2021-22 season. Because the team has control over Harden for at least another two seasons, the urgency to trade him is fairly low right now, and the Rockets will likely wait for the best available offer that presents itself.

Nathan Denette / The Canadian Press via AP

If the Raptors and Rockets were to discuss a trade as of now, the Rockets would likely request Pascal Siakam in the deal, which may be a no-go for Toronto depending on how the front office has evaluated Pascal’s offseason and his potential moving forward.

Kyle Lowry is also a potential trade target for Houston, as his contract would be coming off the books after this season, and that gives the Rockets some leverage heading into a fairly talented 2021 free agency class.

If the trade market on Harden is relatively cold, similar to Kawhi Leonard’s in the 2018 offseason, a trade of Lowry, Norman Powell, OG Anunoby, and a couple future first rounders in exchange for Harden and Ben McLemore makes somewhat sense for both sides.

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Pairing Harden with Siakam allows the 2018-19 Most Improved Player to go back to a secondary creator role, which he excelled at alongside Leonard. Both Harden and Siakam instantly benefit from playing with a player that is tailor-made to complement their own weaknesses.

Ben McLemore is thrown into the deal to make salaries match, but the Rockets can add any player in that pay range to make this trade work.

For the Rockets, they get OG Anunoby, who still has loads of untapped potential to unlock on the offensive end, Norman Powell who can provide effective scoring either as a starter or off the bench, and they receive two first rounders and Lowry’s expiring deal.

The Realistic Chances of Harden Landing in Toronto & How it would Effect the Raptors

Gregory Shamus / Getty Images

Ultimately, Harden’s chances of getting traded to Toronto are slim. Harden’s relationship with Houston’s front office and management has to be beyond repair for a trade like this to even go down.

There are plenty of teams that have more to offer than Toronto, such as Brooklyn and Philadelphia. Those two teams can put together better trade packages than the Raptors, and the only way Toronto acquires Harden is if the Rockets’ management gets petty (like the Spurs did in 2018) and move Harden to a destination he doesn’t desire.

In terms of the Raptors, adding Harden certainly improves the team on the offensive end while likely giving up two or three good defenders (Siakam, Lowry, Anunoby) that have been proven defenders for the past seasons. Does adding Harden make the Raptors title contenders again?

It depends if Toronto is able to keep Siakam in the deal, which in that case vaults them up a tier in teams looking to contend. What really makes things interesting is how a potential Harden trade effects 2021 free agency.

Jeff Swinger / USA TODAY Sports

It would be tricky, but a couple moves here and there could open up a spot to add a third star alongside Harden and Siakam. Don’t put it past Masai Ujiri, Bobby Webster, and the front office to accomplish such a feat.

The Harden trade makes a whole lot of sense for the Raptors if they can somehow keep Siakam on the roster. While it may not result in an immediate championship like the Leonard deal did, it certainly sets up a potential big-three for the 2021-22 season if all the necessary cap spacing moves are made.

It also makes a whole lot of sense for the Raptors to stand pat, and continue to put all their eggs in the 2021 free agency basket. The team will remain competitive regardless, and a potential Harden acquisition doesn’t push the team over the hump against the improved Eastern Conference and the excellence out West.

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