Denver Nuggets could have ruined NBA title run with James Harden trade

Denver Nuggets star Nikola Jokic is defended by James Harden of the Philadelphia 76ers. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
Denver Nuggets star Nikola Jokic is defended by James Harden of the Philadelphia 76ers. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /
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In late 2020, there were rumblings that the Denver Nuggets were interested in trading for then-Houston Rockets star James Harden. Harden had expressed interest in leaving Houston and the Nuggets checked in on what it would take to land the former MVP in a trade.

Thankfully, the price was too high.

According to The Denver Post’s Mike Singer, the Rockets had a significant interest in prying Michael Porter Jr. away from Denver.

“The Nuggets were one of numerous teams the Houston Rockets called to gauge interest about a potential James Harden trade,” Singer wrote back in December of 2020. “Those talks didn’t gain any traction, however, a league source told The Denver Post. Houston’s interest centered firmly on Nuggets small forward Michael Porter Jr., the source said. Those talks haven’t materialized into anything substantial.”

Singer also noted that Denver had been closed-minded about trading away Jamal Murray for Harden, writing that he was “never included” in any discussions.

It was brilliant for the Denver Nuggets to hold off on James Harden trade

Just under three years later, the Denver Nuggets couldn’t be looking any better. They’re coming off of their first-ever NBA title and are favored to repeat as champions in 2023-2024, per DraftKings sportsbook.

The sweetest part of Denver’s championship win is that they were able to do it with a mostly homegrown core, comprised of Nikola Jokic, as well as Murray and Porter Jr — who they elected to keep off the table in trade talks with Houston.

Murray was a driving force behind the Nuggets’ climb to the top of the NBA mountaintop. In the postseason he was fantastic, averaging 26.1 points, 7.1 assists, and 5.7 rebounds per game while shooting 47.3% from the field and 39.6% from beyond the arc.

Porter Jr. wasn’t nearly as prominent as the Canadian guard, but he still played a supplementary role in Denver’s playoff success. He scored 13.4 points, grabbed 8.1 rebounds, and dished 1.6 assists per game in the postseason. The 24-year-old wasn’t overly efficient as he knocked down just 42.3% of his attempts overall and 35.1% of those from distance.

As for Harden, he’s now in the process of forcing his way out of his third franchise in as many years. On Monday morning, video surfaced of the 34-year-old ranting about Philadelphia 76ers general manager Daryl Morey.

The Beard called Morey a liar and said he wouldn’t play for any organization he was involved with.

“Daryl Morey is a liar and I will never be a part of an organization that he’s a part of,” Harden said per The Athletic’s Shams Charania. “Let me say that again: Daryl Morey is a liar and I will never be a part of an organization that he’s a part of.”

Looking back, Nuggets fans should be thankful that Denver wasn’t willing to part with either of its championship building blocks for Harden. Murray and Porter Jr. each made contributions to an NBA championship, while the former MVP disappeared in Philly’s Game 6 & 7 losses to the Boston Celtics last spring.

The Nuggets have a pretty great core around Jokic now, but if you’re curious which players would fit best all time, then check this out:

dark. Next. Building the best starting five for Jokic