When James Harden was drafted third overall in the 2009 NBA Draft, he was essentially a luxury item for the recently transitioned Thunder. They already had Kevin Durant, who averaged 25.3 points per game in his second season in the league, and an emerging full-time point guard in Russell Westbrook. They had Jeff Green, who was then a much more intriguing prospect than in his current towel-covered state, and they probably didn’t even realize what they had in Serge Ibaka, who was stashed away in Europe.
Because of this depth, Harden spent most of his three years with Oklahoma City as a sixth man coming off the bench, but he’s since proven that his talents were severely underutilized. Since being traded to the Houston Rockets, Harden has been an MVP runner up twice and is the front runner to win the award this season.
In hindsight it seems crazy that OKC would trade Harden so early in his career, but there were mitigating circumstances, primarily that the Thunder had to decide whether to pay Harden or Ibaka. They could have made it work with both (see the current Golden State roster), but they would have been severely handicapped in filling out the rest of their roster for the foreseeable future. So, the Rockets took advantage of the situation and landed a future MVP.
As the Mavericks try to work their way back to the playoffs, are there situations out there, like Harden’s back in 2012, that the Mavericks could jump on?
Here are the criteria:
- Age: The player would ideally be under 25 years old
- Potential: The player needs to be good, but not so good that they’re already untouchable. For example, Giannis Antetokounmpo is obviously way too good right now, and the Bucks would be foolish to trade him. Also, Anthony Davis might be available in the near future, but the Mavs could only dream of having the assets needed to furrow that Brow to Dallas. Players like that are out. Instead, we’re looking for someone who may not seem like a future All-Star now, but could be in the right situation.
- Team circumstances: The team the player is on now must be facing some financial or roster complications now or in the near future that put pressure on them to make the trade. Outside of Harden, OKC had three All-Star level players already, and he was being limited by Westbrook and Durant.
Here are some of the players who fit the bill.
Good, but not great... yet
Aaron Gordon (ORL)
We’ve touched on this a lot on the Locked On Mavericks Podcast. The Magic have reportedly been gauging interest in Aaron Gordon this trade deadline, and his free agency this summer is going to be fascinating. Is he worth a max contract solely based on potential?
Jabari Parker (MIL)
In a different way, Parker’s value and contract talks this summer will also be interesting. As a player he is probably worth a max contract, but with his injury history, who is lining up to take that risk?
Julius Randle (LAL)
Among Randle, Gordon, and Parker, Randle probably has the least value right now, mostly because of his situation in Los Angeles. The Lakers have been extremely transparent about the fact that they want to clear up two max contract spots and will oust most anyone that gets in their way, Randle included.
Brandon Ingram (LAL)
As we’ve seen with Randle, the situation in Los Angeles has caused several players to become expendable. For the Lakers to clear space for two max contracts, they would have to move Luol Deng’s massive dead-weight contract. The Lakers have already packaged D’Angelo Russell in a deal in order to shed Timofey Mozgov’s contract. If they get desperate enough, they might move Ingram’s as well.
Jaylen Brown (BOS) and Jayson Tatum (BOS)
The idea of Boston trading either of these two seems insane now, but when Gordon Hayward comes back, there’s going to be a logjam on the wing no matter how position-less the Celtics become. Boston also has the Lakers’ first-round pick this year if it falls between No. 2 and No. 5, a potential Memphis lottery pick in 2019, and the more favorable first-round pick between Sacramento and Philadelphia in 2019 as well. Even
when if Brad Stevens could make the Hayward/Brown/Tatum rotation work, the Celtics could draft another wing with all of those pick, making one of these two expendable. It’s a long shot, but that’s what we’re looking for here.
Jamal Murray (DEN) and Dejounte Murray (SAS)
It’s hard to tell whether Denver wants to rebuild or win now. A player like Nikola Jokic can complicate the direction of a team like that. The Spurs always want to win now, but Kawhi Leonard might want to win sooner than now. Teams can get in trouble sacrificing their futures trying to make win-now moves for a young player. Both Murrays are point guards, so they wouldn’t necessarily be great fits for the Mavericks, and odds are both teams keep them for the long haul, but they could be players to watch.
Should Be Untouchable, But...
Bradley Beal (WAS)
The locker room in Washington is becoming increasingly toxic. Between failed player meetings and public shade throwing, eventually something has to give. Washington just committed to John Wall to the tune of a $170 million contract extension this summer, so Beal could be the one on the move. As it stands, the Mavericks don’t have enough assets to acquire Beal, but if they sent the Wizards Wesley Matthews, Devin Harris, Yogi Ferrell, Josh McRoberts (for cap reasons), and a 2018 or 2019 first-round pick and took on Ian Mahinmi’s contract as well, that could be a start. Again, that seems improbable, but if the situation gets bad enough in DC, the Wizards could get desperate enough to make that move.
These next four have potential, and though they’ll probably never be as good as James Harden, there’s a chance that in just the right fit, with just the right group around them, they could be All-Stars.
Justise Winslow (MIA)
He’s been injured, but the Celtics offered the Hornets (who chose one spot ahead of where Winslow was taken) six draft picks in order to get Winslow. That seems like a long time ago. Miami is famous for getting value out of mid-tier talent, but for some reason Winslow hasn’t exactly been as sure of a thing as the Heat (or Celtics) thought.
Thon Maker (MIL)
The Bucks want to win now; the trade for Eric Bledsoe and their reported interest in DeAndre Jordan prove that. If Maker isn’t coming along as quickly as a contending team would like, then the Mavericks might be able to jump in and snag the versatile big man.
Patrick McCaw (GSW)
After an interesting rookie year that saw him playing in big moments during the Finals, McCaw has sort of cooled down. On an obviously loaded team it’s hard for him to find minutes and develop.
Malik Monk (CHA)
It’s early, but Monk has not impressed. It should be normal for a rookie to be sent down to the G League every once in a while but in today’s NBA, getting sent down is almost viewed as a red mark. Monk was sent down around Christmas time and only shot 9-of-27 from the field in his one start. He might be seen as more of a buy-low player than a Harden-type situation, but he’s still someone to keep an eye on.