The arrival of John Wall has left All-NBA guard James Harden unmoved and uninterested in pursuing a new partnership, and the franchise star continues to push the Houston Rockets for a trade, sources told ESPN.
After making his Rockets preseason debut this past weekend, Wall expressed hope that Harden might become excited about playing with him in a backcourt — a prospect that Harden is rejecting as he prepares to rejoin the team Monday in practice, sources said.
“I think me and James can be a heck of a combination,” Wall told reporters after the Rockets’ 104-91 loss to the Chicago Bulls on Sunday night. “I just hope we get the opportunity to get into the regular season and see how it goes.”
This isn’t personal with Wall, and as one source told ESPN, there’s “no change” in Harden’s desire for a fresh start elsewhere.
After detouring to social engagements in Atlanta and Las Vegas before reporting late for training camp last week, Harden — a league MVP and three-time NBA scoring champion — has expressed to Rockets ownership and management his intention to be professional and engaged upon joining the team, sources said.
For the Rockets, this is necessary for the team to operate under new coach Stephen Silas while also allowing for some leverage in the trade market to get closer to full value for Harden. The appearance of a distressed asset only hinders an organization in making a trade of this magnitude, and Harden has expressed understanding of that concept, as well as the idea that it may take time to find a trade that returns appropriate value to the Rockets, sources said.
The Rockets have talked with the two primary preferred trade destinations for Harden, the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers, sources said. Brooklyn remains Harden’s top choice, which would mean a reunion with his former Oklahoma City teammate, Kevin Durant.
For now, the Sixers are unwilling to include All-Stars Joel Embiid or Ben Simmons in trades, and the Rockets are uninterested in a package primarily composed of the Nets’ complementary players and draft picks, sources said. The Nets aren’t interested in trading Kyrie Irving, nor have the Rockets expressed an interest in acquiring him, sources said. For starters, the Nets and Rockets would need to find a more palatable young player on a third team as part of a broader deal, sources said, and there’s no indication that prospect has gained any traction in recent weeks.
Harden is expected to pass his sixth consecutive COVID-19 test on Monday, which would allow him clearance to begin to participate in team practices. Before Sunday’s game, coach Stephen Silas told reporters that he expected both Harden and veteran P.J. Tucker to be a part of Monday’s practice in Houston. Tucker, unhappy without a contract extension, has been limited in his participation in the preseason and did not join the team on the two-game trip to Chicago.
Teams would be reluctant to give up the assets required to get a player of Harden’s caliber without confidence that he would be willing to remain with that franchise when he can opt out of his contract after the 2021-22 season. Few contending teams have the ability to furnish Houston with the combination of assets that it’s seeking to consider dealing Harden.
Houston hasn’t wavered in what the Rockets consider a fair asking price for Harden: a package that includes a young franchise cornerstone and a bundle of first-round picks and/or talented players on rookie contracts, sources said.
The Rockets traded Russell Westbrook to Washington for Wall, who missed the previous two seasons thanks to injury — but has returned to average 17 points, 6.5 assists and 3.5 rebounds in Houston’s first two preseason games.