ESPN Insider: Rockets should trade James Harden, Celtics would be in the mix

ESPN Insider Kevin Pelton had an outside the box idea for the Houston Rockets: trade James Harden. The thought being that the current construction of the Rockets is not a contender. In fact they are likely to get an 8th seed and get steamrolled by the Golden State Warriors in the first round. Harden's disappearing act on the defensive end is a major problem. Pelton proposes that the best way to fix it would be to exchange Harden for assets. Teams will think they can unearth the defensive effort Harden put forth in his MVP runner-up campaign a season ago and pay for Harden. And as is the case with every player that becomes even hypothetically available, the Celtics are the first team mentioned when he hypothesized potential suitors:

There's no single obvious trade fit for Harden, but the star-hungry Boston Celtics could offer All-Star Isaiah Thomas to replace his shot creation, cap relief with David Lee's expiring contract and perhaps one of the coming picks they're due from the Nets to give the Rockets a chance at another star.

So essentially the Celtics would be selling high on Isaiah Thomas and buying low on James Harden. That's the first team All-NBA James Harden. The same James Harden that got more MVP votes than Lebron James, Russell Westbrook, and Anthony Davis last year. This is the exact type of trade Danny has been gathering assets for. My guess is that Pelton's trade is not enough offering enough in terms of picks. If Justice Winslow can't be had for 4 first round picks, I can't imagine Morey coughing up Harden for anything less than 4 firsts and a few seconds. Whatever, if Danny Ainge has to clean the cupboard to get Harden, he'll do so in a half a heart beat.

Why? Well, Harden is essentially a king sized version of Isaiah Thomas. The Celtics are already running the perfect offense for Harden. The fit is ideal. Even in a "down year" Harden is averaging 28 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds per game. He gets to the line 10 times a game and hits 87% of his free throws. He cans 3 threes per game. As good as IT is for this Celtics offense, Harden is the next level up. A guy who would put the Celtics into the true NBA upper crust. A guy who would launch the Celtics into the Kevin Durant discussion this offseason.

But the defense! He won't play defense!

You know who played zero defense before coming to Boston? Isaiah Thomas. Via Chris Forsberg at ESPN:

In 64 games between Phoenix and Boston last season, Thomas owned a defensive rating of 104.5. His three seasons in Sacramento featured defensive ratings of 104.8, 107.4, and 107.6.

This season? His defensive rating is 101.4. That's actually a tenth of a point higher than Avery Bradley. That's a marked improvement. While Brad Stevens hasn't coached a superstar like Harden, the fact that he got this level of progress from IT gives him a track record for getting people who exert no effort on defense to bear down. Harden also plays 38 minutes a game, which Stevens would never do. Just dropping Harden to 33 minutes a game will allow Harden to exert more effort on the defensive end.

Imagine a small-ball lineup of Smart/Bradley/Harden/Crowder/Olynyk? Holy hell that unit would put some points on the board.

The Celtics should not trade Isaiah Thomas to make a lateral move or a rent-a-Howard/Horford. But to get a James Harden? That's a no brainer.

If only Kevin Pelton were the GM of the Rockets and not Daryl Morey.

Photo Credit Don Ryan/AP