Culture / Sporting Life

Not Getting Ben Simmons Makes the James Harden Trade a Crippling Loss For the Rockets

Missing Out on Securing Houston's Next Superstar

BY // 01.13.21

Ben Simmons clearly was available. A 24-year-old burgeoning superstar who could have made all the Houston Rockets’ leftover pieces better — and served as the foundation of a new championship push the next half dozen years at least — dangled there for the taking. And the Rockets traded James Harden for a haul of draft picks instead.

Harden is gone, having essentially forced himself out of Houston with one of the most childish and selfish displays in NBA history. Ben Simmons is still somehow a Philadelphia 76er. And the Rockets have set themselves up for years of uncertainty.

Despite what’s being touted as a record haul of draft picks (four first round picks and the chance to do four pick swaps with the Brooklyn Nets), this is a loss for first-year Rockets general manager Rafael Stone and Tilman Fertitta. Simmons — who has somehow become almost underrated after being one of the most hyped college players of all-time in his one season at LSU — would have immediately made the Rockets one of the most interesting teams in the NBA.

Simmons’ selfless passing — and the uptempo attack he thrives in — would have made Rockets fans quickly forget any bad taste from Harden’s sloppy departure.

James Harden
Houston Rockets guard James Harden

Even trading Harden nearly straight up for Simmons would have been acceptable. Simmons is seven years younger than Harden and signed through the 2024-25 season. Instead, the Rockets apparently tried to play hardball with the 76ers and their recent-ex Daryl Morey and lost their chance to get a transcendent player.

Instead, it’s a bunch of draft picks (the Nets’ 2022, 2024 and 2026 unprotected first round selections and Cleveland’s 2022 first rounder) and superstar-wannabe Victor Oladipo on a rest of the season rental. Comparing this to the haul Danny Ainge got for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett is misleading.

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Pierce and Garnett were clearly washed up when Ainge traded them. Harden is still one of the 10 best players in the league when he’s not lazily going through the motions to force a trade.

The Rockets could have done worse. But they had the chance to do so much better. Ben Simmons was right there. They only had to swallow any distaste for dealing with Morey, who walked out on a Rockets mess, to do it.

Ben Simmons. One of the most creative facilitators in basketball, a 6-foot-10 point forward who many other stars would love to play with. One of the best defensive players in the league.

Of course, it could be worse for Stone and the Rockets. At least, they’re not as much of a mess as the Houston Texans.

Harden’s Brooklyn Nirvana?

As for Harden, he gets to go to his dream destination after all. He heads to the Brooklyn Nets to play alongside the unparalleled Kevin Durant again and maybe Kyrie Irving. (Who knows what’s going to really happen with Kyrie?) Harden is on one of the most significant teams in the league again, a category the Rockets are no longer close to being in.

Harden is even joining former Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni, who might deserve a sports version of the Noble Peace Prize for how he held Houston together considering how everything fell apart once he left. D’Antoni is an assistant coach with the Nets and he’ll surely have plenty of ideas for Steve Nash on how to best utilize Harden.

Maybe James Harden will finally find basketball happiness. It’s more likely, he’ll forever be searching, forever convinced that everyone and everything in a franchise needs to bend to his whims.

The Rockets are moving on from Harden. That’s a necessity. But they somehow forget to grab the young superstar just dangling there while doing it.

No Ben Simmons does not mean no hope for the Rockets. But it sure drastically reduces the ability to see it.

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