Are the Toronto Raptors a realistic destination for a disgruntled James Harden?

Toronto Raptors - James Harden (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Toronto Raptors - James Harden (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

With all the problems going on with James Harden in Houston, should the Toronto Raptors consider trading for him?

A disgruntled star wanting out of their respective team. How many times have we heard this story before in the NBA? But let’s think of two disgruntled stars who have actually shaped the NBA’s last two championships: Kawhi Leonard with the Toronto Raptors in 2019, and Anthony Davis with the Lakers in 2020.

If the Spurs handled Kawhi’s injury with more care, then the Toronto Raptors lose in the semifinals against the 76ers and never win a championship. If Davis was as committed to the Pelicans as we initially thought, then maybe LeBron gets a weaker star alongside him and the Lakers don’t win a championship.

This isn’t a suggestion stating that trading for a disgruntled star guarantees a championship. Though it will certainly help your team a lot, especially when they’re on Leonard’s and Davis’ level. With James Harden wanting out of Houston, there’s another player of that level waiting to get taken away from Houston.

Harden is arguably one of the league’s best scorers of all time. His 36 points per game season he had was among one of the most historic. Only Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan have done better. That’s elite company to be a part of, and players like these don’t come around very often. I’d find it hard to believe that president Masai Ujiri isn’t at least thinking of the opportunity.

What would the Toronto Raptors have to pay for Harden?

Pascal Siakam has to be going the other way if the Raptors want any deal for Harden. He’s the team’s best player and the Rockets have made it clear that they aren’t willing to do a trade if they don’t have a young star coming in return. Siakam fits that label of a young star and more, with a championship and All-NBA team to his belt.

But that wouldn’t be the only piece to go Houston’s way. There will surely be picks and young players involved that would more than even up the trade. If Houston asks for any other core piece in return — Lowry, VanVleet, or Anunoby — then Masai should hang up the phone. The Raptors need all those key players to fully compete for the championship; removing one of them and Siakam makes the Harden trade pointless.

How does Harden fit on offense and defense?

Nick Nurse and Mike D’Antoni are very similar in terms of where they want their respective teams to score. Either on the three-point line or in the paint, anywhere else is forbidden — Nick Nurse used to actually reduce points in practice for any long two’s taken when he was a coach in the G-League. There wouldn’t be any problem there as only 2 percent of Harden’s shots were long-mid range shots, per Cleaning the Glass. Harden would be able to continue scoring at the same places he was in Houston.

The problem would be his off-ball issues and willingness to share the ball. Last season and in the playoffs especially, Harden was often caught standing at half-court when he didn’t have the ball. Something that upset many, considering that was a big part of his success when he played with the Oklahoma City Thunder. It’s almost as if the Rockets were playing a 4v5 on offense at times.

When you have two players who can also lead the offense in Fred VanVleet and Kyle Lowry, then you’d need everything you can get from Harden off-ball.  He’d also find a lot more opportunity to cut and find openings like in his OKC days with the Raptors movement on offense.

Defensively, he is a better player than most people think. When Harden was on the court last season, the opposing team shot 6.3 percent worse around the rim; and 5 percent worse from all of mid-range. Resulting in opposing teams having an effective field goal rate of 3.7 percent worse when Harden is playing — ranking Harden among the 92nd percentile among all players.

That more than answers the question marks surrounding his defense. When engaged, Harden has become an elite-level defender and he’d only help the Toronto Raptors in that department.

Harden joining the Toronto Raptors would make them title favorites

There’s no doubt that the Toronto Raptors would become instant title favorite with James Harden in the lineup. In an Eastern Conference that has gotten better across the board, that wouldn’t be a problem for the Raptors if Harden were to join. With Harden, the Toronto Raptors would have a two-year window where’d they become title favorites– Harden has two years on his contract left.

Next. Channing Frye says the Toronto Raptors give James Harden the best opportunity to win. dark

Giving up on Siakam will be hard, but when you have a chance at one of the best scorers of all time; that’s just a player you have to at least try to get. However, this seems more like a long-shot than anything.

As much as this would help them win a championship now, Masai’s eyes are set on 2021 and the list of free-agents that will come with it. And not even the best scorer of all-time will stop his plans.