The Rockets certainly don't seem to be rushing their decision regarding the future of star guard James Harden, and this affects not only how the Rockets will operate, but how their trade suitors will as well.
Tim McMahon of ESPN reports that the Rockets "feel no pressure" and has been told by sources that the team is "willing to get uncomfortable" entering the 2020-21 season, meaning that both Harden and Russell Westbrook could very likely remain on the roster as the season gets underway. And why not? If the Rockets jump out to a 10-0 start, are they really going to want to move their two stars after all, despite already getting rid of Robert Covington? And will Harden and Westbrook remain unsatisfied if Houston has massive early success?
Marc Stein of The New York Times summed up the franchise's feeling.
The above questions are worth asking from the Rockets' perspective, but it's also worth looking at these questions from the perspective of the aforementioned Sixers, a team frequently touted as one of the top candidates for Harden. Stein broke down how this wait-and-see approach could affect the Sixers and fit into the game plan revolving around their two stars (h/t Blake Schuster of Bleacher Report).
The early signals emanating from Philadelphia suggest that Morey, the 76ers’ new president of basketball operations, wants to give Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons every last chance to click before trading one of them. Houston, just to name one non-Nets option, could decide to wait to see if the Sixers’ stance changes. As wary as the Rockets must be about doing a deal of that magnitude with Morey, we’ve seen that front offices that know each other well often find it easier to collaborate on the biggest of trades.
As undeniably talented as the two players are together, it's no question that their play styles don't exactly mesh with each other, a fact that has resulted in a fair amount of frustration from the Sixers' fan base. Of all two-man combinations of 76ers that played at least 500 minutes together during the 2019-2020 season, Embiid and Simmons rank 20th out of 23 duos in net points per 100 possessions (via Stathead).
There are several figures, including former 76er J.J. Redick, who believe the two players can fit together in the long run, though.
"They are both incredibly intelligent, and I'm always betting on guys that are smart enough to figure things out," Redick told NBA writers Derek Bodner and Rich Hoffman in April of this year. "And they will."
“The numbers kinda say that, when they’re on the court together, they do pretty good: 2018, pretty good (for reference: +15.5 net rating); 2019, pretty good (+7.9 net rating); 2020, still pretty good, but not as good (+0.9 net rating), right? I don’t think they’re changing, so maybe the people around them are changing. That, to me, just goes back to the right fit and the right pieces."
Thus, while the Rockets figure out what's best for them, the Sixers can do the same in that early-season span. And if neither team gets off to the start they want, with the Sixers continuing to build a core surrounding their two stars, it makes it much easier to see how a trade would come into being.
Of course, it's not as if the possibility that the Rockets deal Harden before the regular season doesn't exist, especially if the Nets (or Sixers) are able to offer a substantial enough package in return for the former MVP before the games get underway. The Sixers, on the surface, have much more attractive expendable pieces, considering neither Embiid nor Simmons is publicly considered untouchable. Stein notes this as well, adding that the Rockets will seek out a haul similar to what the Pelicans got in return for Jrue Holiday, including several first-round picks and young players, and that the Nets aren't in the best position to do this.
Still, a prevailing factor in this whole scenario stems from an Adrian Wojnarowski report that Harden is "singularly focused" on a deal with the Nets, turning down a record $50 million per year to play in Houston because his sights were set on Brooklyn.
Where will he go? Nobody knows. Expect every day to bring some new intrigue into the equation before anything is finalized.