Trail Blazers

James Harden as a Trail Blazer? Here's why it's a great idea... and why it's not

Trail Blazers

James Harden as a Portland Trail Blazer?

I’ve been thinking about it all afternoon, after hearing the Trail Blazers are on the list of teams that Harden would accept in a trade. I’ve been trying to understand the ramifications of a deal that would bring him to Portland.

I’m not going to go into what sort of package it would take from the Trail Blazers to make such a trade. I don’t think that really has much to do with the big question, which is, how would he fit in Portland? And is it worth a try?

First, the positives:

  • Harden is one of the most efficient offensive players of all time. He is the prototypical new-age statistical darling. He makes tough threes and can get to the basket. He can get his own shot. He can play long minutes. And when he wants to be, he’s a very good passer.
  • He is under contract through the 2022-23 season.
  • He is a full-fledged stat monster and superstar who is a six-time first-team all-NBA player who was once an MVP. He has led the league in scoring four times and traditionally leads it in three-point field goal attempts and makes. And also in free throws made and attempted
  • He is a unique player who is virtually unguardable by just one player.

And now, the negatives:

  • He has not distinguished himself in his attempts to get himself traded out of Houston -- reporting late to camp and reportedly out of shape, being caught without a mask in a club.
  • He has seemingly been tough on teammates. It doesn’t seem as if the likes of Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul enjoyed the Harden experience.
  • In the last few seasons, his turnovers have almost equaled his assists.
  • He is not known as a solid defender. Or even close to that.
  • He needs the ball in his hands a lot -- his usage rate is very high. Do you want to see the ball in Damian Lillard’s hands less frequently?
  • Would Lillard, whose personality and game seem in conflict with Harden's, be able to coexist with him?
  • Could Harden handle the slow-paced life in Portland? And if not, would this be a short-term tenure on this team?

I think that the first thing that has to happen is Lillard has to sign off on Harden coming aboard. If that’s the case, I’d be OK with it.

Harden is an incredibly talented player and might be Portland’s biggest chance yet of landing a legit superstar to play alongside Lillard.

And that offensive talent -- Hall of Fame worthy -- is hard to resist. In a pure basketball sense, the deal is a no-brainer for Portland, a franchise that may never be able to draft or sign a free agent as enormously talented as Harden.


General Manager Neil Olshey has known Harden since his high school days. There is a solid relationship there. And I would expect the Trail Blazers would have interest if a deal can be worked out.

Houston’s asking price is said to be high, but you would expect it to be. They would be giving up their only franchise player. And the Rockets have leverage because they don’t have to trade him -- they have his rights for next season, too.

But if I’m the Trail Blazers, I’m talking to the Rockets.

A combination of Harden and Lillard with a solid group of role players would be a very competitive team.

And it would be a very big roll of the dice that would be a grand experiment the likes of which this franchise has never seen.