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James Harden reportedly preferred John Wall to Russell Westbrook: Will trade persuade him to stay?

Jason Owens
·3-min read

In the modern NBA, stars — not executives — often call the shots on roster moves.

It sounds like James Harden had some sway over Wednesday’s blockbuster John Wall-Russell Westbrook trade. According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Harden preferred playing with Wall over Westbrook. And now he has his wish.

Whether the move will be enough to quiet Harden’s reported trade demands is yet to be seen.

“He had a preference of John Wall over Westbrook,” Wojnarowski said on ESPN’s “Get Up” Thursday. “In the last couple of years, Harden has moved teammates in and out. He brought Chris Paul in and moved him out — same with Russell Westbrook now.”

Will Wall’s presence persuade Harden?

While it sounds like the arrival of Wall is a welcome addition for Harden, it seems unlikely that a 30-year-old point guard who hasn’t played since 2018 because of serious injuries including an Achilles tear is the panacea to Harden’s concerns.

Wall in his prime was a five-time All-Star and one of the best creators of offense in the game. But he was never an efficient scorer or an elite 3-point threat. Even if he comes back better than expected from his nearly two-season layoff, the difference between his and Westbrook’s contributions are negligible and most likely a downgrade.

John Wall #2 of the Washington Wizards talks with James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets in the second half at Capital One Arena on November 26, 2018 in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
John Wall's arrival in Houston appears in part to be an attempt to appease James Harden. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Harden’s reasons to want out

Harden’s discontent in Houston also reportedly revolves around owner Tilman Fertitta’s support of President Donald Trump. A return to All-NBA form from Wall isn’t going to fix that. Nor would it assuage Harden’s reported desire to reunite with former Oklahoma City Thunder teammate Kevin Durant with the Brooklyn Nets.

Harden has also presumably had his fill not advancing beyond the conference finals with Houston. Again, Wall’s not going to change that fact in a stacked Western Conference. No, the Rockets have a lot more work to do if they intend to attempt to satisfy Harden’s desires.

But as much as Harden may want out of Houston, it’s not up to him. He has two years remaining on a four-year, $171 million contract. His status as an NBA basketball player is strictly under Houston’s control until 2022. Until then — or until the Rockets decide to move on from Harden — it looks like Houston’s going to do what it can to persuade him to stay longer.

Boogie on playing with Wall: ‘Brother for life’

One person who is clearly happy about Wall’s arrival in Houston in DeMarcus Cousins. The veteran center signed with the Rockets during the offseason and is excited to reunite with his former Kentucky running mate. Wall and Cousins played together for John Calipari’s Wildcats before becoming lottery picks in 2010.

“This is something me and him have planned and dreamed about for a long time,” Cousins told reporters Thursday. “I’m pretty sure he’s just as grateful for this moment as I am. There’s obviously a chemistry between me and him from my college days.

“Not only were we teammates in college. We’ve been knowing each other since we were 14 years old. That’s a guy I consider one of my better friends in the NBA. He was actually one of the groomsmen in my wedding. He’s a brother for life.”

Wall and Cousins have each taken an arduous, injury-filled route to playing together in the NBA. But their reunion will certainly be worth watching when the NBA tips later this month.

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