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NBA AM: James Harden, The Recruiter?

The Rockets may find it difficult to build out their roster, but James Harden, apparently, is on the case.

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While they attempt to find a way to coax the New York Knicks into executing a trade that lands Carmelo Anthony in Houston, the Rockets have James Harden, Chris Paul and very little else.

Sure, Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza and Clint Capela make for a decent cast of characters to flank the All-NBA backcourt, but without more, there’s little chance that the Rockets will have an opportunity to win the Western Conference.

That, of course, is why the recruitment of Anthony is so important to the Rockets.

With Paul entering the final year of his contract, re-signing him to a market-value deal next summer would clog up the Rockets’ payroll over its duration. In other words, this summer might be general manager Daryl Morey’s last best chance to build a championship roster while his team still retains some future salary cap flexibility.

Perhaps this is why, according to Morey, Harden is doing his best to help the cause.

“One-on-one, I can say James is an unbelievable recruiter because he’s smart,” Morey told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN on a recent podcast.

“He understands the plan. He wants to execute for the team he’s leading. It makes my job easy, frankly, to have him.”

Entering his sixth year as a member of the Rockets, Harden has grown from being a sometimes forgotten about sixth man to one of the league’s most valuable players. More importantly, he has become one of the players that other stars around the league would likely peg as being someone with whom they could play and get to the “next” level. After all, it’s probably no coincidence that when Paul apparently decided that he would be better off continuing his career outside of Los Angeles that he chose Houston. Harden was in his ear.

“If he wasn’t doing this, he would be like the lead sales guy somewhere,” Morey said.

“He’d probably be the strategic guy because he’s so smart.”

Now, let’s see what he can do.

As it relates specifically to Anthony, reports out of New York continue to state that Anthony has no desire to be traded anywhere other than Houston. That stance will be tested, as Scott Perry, the newly installed general manager of the New York Knicks, has reportedly dug in his heels and has recommended against the franchise accepting Ryan Anderson in any trade. Without Anderson, it’s difficult to imagine the sides coming to terms on a deal without at least one additional team getting involved.

Fortunately for Morey, Harden is a star recruiter, so if things don’t work out with Anthony, what other options would the Rockets have?

For starters, there are quite a few players out there who, by virtue of free agency, have found themselves with what appear to be reduced roles. Others have apparently become expendable while there are a few pending free agents to be that could find themselves on the trading block.

Heading into this season, DeMarcus Cousins will become the league’s most-discussed player. Despite being regarded as one of the most gifted big men in the entire league, Cousins is entering his ninth season in the league and hasn’t played in a single playoff game. In Denver, Paul Millsap’s signing will likely negatively impact Kenneth Faried’s place in the rotation, and he now appears to have become expendable, especially with the crowded front court in the Mile High City.

Across the county, in Philadelphia, the Sixers have captured the imaginations of an entire conference. Markelle Fultz, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Dario Saric are mentioned all the time. The one who isn’t? Jahlil Okafor. Okafor has had difficulty staying out of trouble and regressed tremendously in his sophomore season in Philly. Now, it’s curious to consider where he fits in with a franchise that has a lot of perceived talent on its roster.

Aside from those big names, other rotation pieces and players could find themselves with new addresses. Historically, Daryl Morey has been one of the league’s more active general managers. The difficulty for him, though, will be finding creative ways to build around Harden while the superstar is still in his prime. The Rockets gave up a trove of their assets in their acquiring of Paul and currently owe their 2018 first round pick to the Atlanta Hawks (top three protected).

Not having a first round pick to trade until 2020 at the earliest, the Rockets may find it difficult to build their roster via trade.

If Harden is the recruiter that Morey believes he is, though, they may still be a team worth watching.

Moke Hamilton is a Deputy Editor and Columnist for Basketball Insiders.

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