The Houston Rockets and Chicago Bulls are both facing uncertain futures, albeit in different ways. The latter group is preparing to start anew under recently-hired head coach, Billy Donovan. The former is still looking for a viable alternative to Mike D’Antoni, and it is unclear whether the franchise’s current salary cap situation is sustainable.
The Rockets have the 10th highest payroll in the league and two of the NBA’s four most expensive players. Because the Rockets are on the hook for so much money between James Harden and Russell Westbrook, many around the league have openly wondered whether they may opt to part ways with one or the other.
This past week, Andrew Miller of FanSided proposed an interesting trade that could dramatically change the fortunes of both Chicago and Houston.
“If [the Rockets] do want to trade Harden, then getting a mix of pieces that are both valuable to the future and still give them some hope to win immediately in the Western Conference is a great way to go,” Miller noted.
In the proposed deal, Harden and Eric Gordon would go to the Bulls, while Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Otto Porter Jr., and a 2020 first rounder would head back to the Rockets. It would unquestionably be an earth-shattering, blockbuster swap.
The rationale here is clear on both sides.
Harden is owed a lot of cash. He is due $41.3 million in 2020-21, $44.3 million in 2021-22 and has a player-option worth $47.4 million in 2022-23.
If Houston doesn’t make any moves to change up its salary cap situation, by 2022-23, it will be paying just Harden, Westbrook and Gordon $114 million combined.
That is a lot for a team that isn’t winning any championships, owned by a guy who has made it abundantly clear that he is in cost-cutting mode.
What a year. https://t.co/aXauCkoKLW
— Game 7 (@game7__) October 10, 2020
A few weeks back, an NBA executive suggested that the idea of moving Harden wasn’t as far-fetched as some may think.
“Everything should be on the table, including moving Harden,” he said.
For the Bulls, this is a no-brainer.
Obviously they would be parting with pretty much all of their young assets, but they would be doing so to attain a player who just averaged 34.3 points, 6.6 rebounds and 7.5 assists per outing, and shot 44 percent from the field, 35.5 percent from three and 86.5 percent from the free throw line.
Gotta love Rajon Rondo. https://t.co/8Y42wsYeS1
— Game 7 (@game7__) October 12, 2020
If there is any trepidation at all when it comes to mortgaging the future for the present, look no further than this year’s Los Angeles Lakers. It is a time-honored tradition, and works extremely well.
The Rockets, meanwhile, would obviously rid themselves of a former MVP, but they would also get a ton of young talent back. They are not legitimate championship contenders right now anyway, so selling high on Harden at this juncture might be the best they can hope for.
Obviously it is difficult to see a scenario where Houston actually parts ways with Harden, but stranger things have happened.
And if the Rockets ultimately choose not to deal him because they don’t want to enter a brief rebuilding phase, then they may end up regretting that decision down the line.