With each passing day, James Harden and the Houston Rockets inch closer to what surely will be a messy divorce.
The 2018 NBA MVP made his desire to be traded known in November, with the Brooklyn Nets reportedly serving as his preferred destination. He then signed off on a trade that sent Russell Westbrook to the Washington Wizards for John Wall. But when the time came for Harden to arrive at Rockets training camp Sunday, he was unable to participate due to the NBA's COVID-19 protocols. New coach Stephen Silas said Harden was slated to go through a personal workout at Toyota Center. However, he did not go through a workout, but did tell the Rockets he would report soon, sources told ESPN's Tim MacMahon.
Silas said he has not had any communication with Harden, and the star shooting guard posted a grimacing face on Instagram on Sunday.
On Monday, Silas said he still has not heard from his star and has no timetable for his arrival.
As Harden's frustration in Houston mounts, could the Warriors eventually be the beneficiary?
The Warriors reportedly called the Rockets to inquire about Harden's availability before Klay Thompson's Achilles tear. With Thompson likely out for the season, there would be little reason for president of basketball operations Bob Myers to pursue a deal this season.
There's also little reason for the Rockets to deal Harden this year. Dealing Westbrook for Wall and a first-round pick is one thing, but there's little reason for Silas and new general manager Rafael Stone to open their tenure by trading a top-five player and signaling a full rebuild.
The Rockets' message to Harden, at least initially, almost certainly will be: "You want to go to Brooklyn? Great. You can sign there when your contract is up." They have little incentive to give into his demands and trade him for pennies on the dollar.
I still think the smart money is on Harden playing out this season in Houston unless the Rockets and Philadelphia 76ers can orchestrate a Ben Simmons trade that's a win-win for both sides. That would, of course, also mean Rockets owner Tillman Fertitta is OK trading Harden to the 76ers, who now are run by Daryl Morey.
There are several obstacles standing in the way of Harden's desired departure from Houston. A prolonged saga plays right into the Warriors' hands, should they want to pair Harden with Steph Curry and a healthy Thompson.
If the Rockets refuse to trade Harden this season, the Warriors become a more attractive option for Houston and The Beard next offseason.
Yes, a trade for Harden would cost the Warriors a massive sum, including Andrew Wiggins, James Wiseman and the Minnesota Timberwolves' 2021 first-round pick. But, aside from Simmons, the Warriors might hold the three most attractive assets out there in a potential Harden trade unless the Denver Nuggets get involved and are willing to include Michael Porter Jr.
If you're going to trade a top-five player, you can't just get back a handful of good players or a lot of draft picks. You need something to sell a fan base. A 26-year-old Wiggins who is finally starting to play up to his potential, a 20-year-old future star center in Wiseman and a top pick in a loaded 2021 class is something that should pique the Rockets' interest.
Harden's fit with the Warriors shouldn't be in question. He thrived in a system built around him handling the ball and creating. He excelled in it. But he has the versatile skill set and basketball IQ to succeed in any system. He's one of the best passers in basketball and would be great next to Curry and Thompson.
The thought of adding Harden is an odd one, but it's worth exploring. If the goal is to maximize Curry's remaining prime, surrounding him with the best players possible should be the top aim of Myers and the front office. Putting Harden next to Curry and Thompson would be akin to Thanos putting the Reality Stone next to the Space and Power Stone.
Harden wants out now. But the Rockets have no incentive to move him.
If his frustration continues to mount and the Rockets drag this on well into the season, the Warriors could enter back into the Harden trade discussions with a package that only a few teams could top.
It's not likely, but don't count out Harden coming to The Bay just yet.