Last week it was reported that James Harden was expanding his list of preferred trade destinations to include the Portland Trail Blazers. Harden is one of the most prolific scorers in NBA history, and the Rockets’ expectation for what they should receive in return for a player of his caliber will understandably be significant. If you’re the Blazers, Lillard is off the table. A one-for-one swap of Lillard for Harden doesn’t move the needle for Portland’s championship aspirations enough to warrant such a franchise-altering transaction. Instead, the Blazers’ most likely centerpiece in a deal for Harden would be the man who plays his same position, CJ McCollum.

One of the Blazers’ best characteristics is their team chemistry. It starts at the top with Lillard, but McCollum is a leader in the locker room as well. The two stars in Portland are best friends and it’s difficult to imagine Lillard watching his backcourt partner getting traded away without objection. Is it possible the front office could convince Lillard this is the team’s best opportunity to win a championship? I believe they could.

I also believe if you’re the top brass in Portland, you need to be careful. Lillard has been open about his desire to remain a Blazer, but how does trading away his best friend and potentially interfering with team chemistry impact the star point guard’s loyalty?

The current iteration of the Blazers has an identity. They’re working out some kinks, given the new faces on the roster, but they know who they are. If they decide to trade for Harden, that identity is out the window. You’re trading McCollum for Harden, yes, but you’re also trading the known for the unknown. It could be amazing. It could be disastrous.

Let’s look at the hypotheticals.

Best Case

James Harden in Portland: Best and Worst Case Timelines
(Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
January 8th, 2021 3:37 PM (PST)

The Houston Rockets agree to trade James Harden and Brodric Thomas to the Portland Trail Blazers for CJ McCollum, Zach Collins, and a protected 2022 1st round pick.

January 11th, 2021 7:00 PM (PST)

In their first game with the newly acquired Harden on the roster, the Trail Blazers defeat the Toronto Raptors 122-94. Lillard and Harden combine for 79 points and 21 assists.

January 28th, 2021 6:30 PM (PST)

The Blazers extend their win streak to 10 games with a 116-104 road victory over CJ McCollum and the Houston Rockets. Harden scores 48-points in the victory, while McCollum scores 36.

May 18th, 2021 9:36 PM (PST)

With their overtime win over the San Antonio Spurs, the Trail Blazers clinch the top seed in the Western Conference.

July 12th, 2021 8:45 PM (PST) 

The Trail Blazers complete the 4-game sweep of the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. After the series, Lebron James says “They were better than us in every way. Watch out for them.”

July 22nd, 2021 9:58 PM (PST)

Portland wins the NBA Championship for the first time since 1977. James Harden wins Finals MVP for his role in the five-game series win over the Boston Celtics. During his acceptance speech, he turns to Damian Lillard and says, with tears in his eyes, “you’re the real MVP.”

2021-22 NBA Season

The Trail Blazers win a record-setting 74 games in the regular season before sailing through the playoffs without a loss. They are the first repeat champion since the Golden State Warriors in 2018.

2022-23 NBA Season

While Portland doesn’t match the win total of their previous year, the addition of Lebron James in his final NBA season makes this the most formidable team of the Blazers run and places them in the conversation for the best team of all time. They complete the 3-peat, the first since the ShaqKobe Lakers from 2000-2002. Lebron rides off into the sunset following this season. Harden signs a max-contract with the Knicks. Lillard surprises the basketball world by announcing his retirement from the NBA and subsequent candidacy for Mayor of Portland. He goes on to serve for 40 years.  

Worst Case

James Harden in Portland: Best and Worst Case Timelines
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
January 8th, 2021 3:37 PM (PST)

The Houston Rockets agree to trade James Harden and Brodric Thomas to the Portland Trail Blazers for CJ McCollum, Zach Collins, and a protected 2022 1st round pick.

January 8th, 2021 3:45 PM (PST)

Harden posts an Instagram story saying he’s excited for the opportunity to “be the new leader for a group of talented players.”

January 8th, 2021 4:25 PM (PST)

Asked by reporters about Harden’s social media post declaring himself the leader of the team, Lillard downplays the quote and says it seems “taken out of context.”

January 8th, 2021 4:55 PM (PST)

When asked for clarification, Harden says it wasn’t taken out of context.

January 11th, 2021 10:18 PM (PST)

In their first game with Harden on the team, the Trail Blazers suffer a disappointing overtime loss to the Toronto Raptors. Both Lillard and Harden were terrific, and both insist better days are still to come.

February 6th, 2021 7:38 PM (PST)

Portland gets blown out in a loss to the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, making them 6-8 since Harden’s arrival.

February 17th, 2021 9:28 PM (PST)

With their win over the Pelicans, the Blazers extend their win streak to 7 games, having seemingly turned things around following their embarrassment in New York.

February 20th, 2021 10:04 PM (PST)

Given the local response to Covid-19 and improved vaccine distribution, the Blazers play their first home game with limited fan attendance in nearly a year. It is a resounding 120-94 win over the Wizards.

March 4th, 2021 9:26 PM (PST)

The Blazers beat the Kings 108-101 and enter the mid-season break at 22-15.

March 6th, 2021 8:47 AM (PST)

During a trip to an Atlanta area strip club at the beginning of the break, Harden contracts Covid-19. Fortunately, it is detected early.

March 7th, 2021 10:30 AM (PST)

Unfortunately, it isn’t detected early enough, as Harden returns to Portland and passes the virus to the entirety of the Trail Blazers team. A majority of the team staff is infected as well.

March 7th, 2021 11:30 AM (PST)

Portland’s PR department releases a statement that “due to extenuating circumstances, the team will need to return to its policy of no fans in attendance during home games.”

March 7th, 2021 12:30 PM (PST)

#ThanksHarden trends locally in Portland.

March 11th, 2021 7:00 PM (PST)

In what should be their first game back from the mid-season break, the Blazers remain in Covid-19 protocol and are forced to forfeit their game. Commissioner Adam Silver is making an example of them.

March 20th, 2021 9:37 PM (PST)

The Blazers snap their 4-game losing streak with their first win since the break. Harden continues to refer to Commissioner Silver as the bronze man and has accrued fines totaling $104,000.

May 5th, 2021 7:30 PM (PST)

Harden is forced to miss a road matchup with his former team, the Houston Rockets, for “personal reasons.”

May 5th, 2021 8:15 PM (PST)

It is discovered that the “personal reason” Harden referenced was a chartered trip to Tulum, Mexico to celebrate Cinco de Mayo.

May 16th, 2021 9:57 PM (PST)

In his first game back from suspension, Harden scores 61 points in a home win over the Lakers.

May 20th, 2021 9:45 PM (PST)

The Trail Blazers clinch a playoff spot and the 7th seed in the Western Conference. Despite a rocky year and a worse regular-season finish than expected, the team still believes their best is yet to come.

May 28th, 2021 10:06 PM (PST)

The best was not yet to come, as Portland is swept in the first round of the playoffs by none other than CJ McCollum and the Houston Rockets. Harden took 58-percent of Portland’s total field goal attempts but shot only 30-percent, and averaged fewer than three assists per game throughout the series.

July 6th, 2021 3:45 PM (PST)

In his first interview since the season’s conclusion, Harden doesn’t mince words. He criticizes Lillard and wonders aloud whether he would have been better off staying in Houston.

August 1st, 2021 11:48 AM (PST)

Harden unfollows all of his Portland teammates on social media.

August 20th, 2021 7:30 AM (PST)

Harden re-follows all of his Portland teammates on social media.

September 15th, 2021 3:38 AM (PST)

Harden demands a trade from Portland and threatens to sit the season out if he isn’t moved.

2021-22 NBA Season Part One

Following a tumultuous offseason, Portland manages to reign Harden in. He agrees to honor his contract and Portland begins the year with a fair amount of optimism as the team starts the season 14-6.

2021-22 NBA Season Part Two

Following their 13-game losing streak, Harden again demands a trade. This time Neil Olshey and the front office oblige, and Harden is traded to Detroit for Blake Griffin. A longtime trade target for fans in Rip City, Griffin’s arrival paired with an end to the James Harden saga allows a breath of relief.

2021-22 NBA Season Part Three

With Griffin out for the season with a torn MCL, the Blazers are in free-fall. Jusuf Nurkic has lost all motivation and frequently gets into shouting matches with the coaching staff. Lillard looks dejected and lost. The team ends the season 36-46, the conference’s 10th seed, and misses the playoffs.

2022-23 NBA Season

The season begins without Harden on the roster, but the damage has been done. Coach Terry Stotts is gone. Despite a slew of former NBA stars making the successful transition to becoming head coaches, Portland has no such luck with recently retired Russell Westbrook. Frequently referring to Lillard as “the boy” and trying to substitute himself into the middle of close games, Portland’s franchise star reaches the end of his rope. Lillard demands a trade before the All-Star break and he’s sent to the Lakers in exchange for Kyle Kuzma and cash considerations. Joining a Los Angeles team that had already added Steph Curry, the combination of Lillard, Curry, Lebron James, and Anthony Davis is virtually unstoppable en route to an NBA Championship.

2023-24 NBA Season

In their first full season without Lillard, Portland struggles to maintain fan engagement, and ticket sales drop precipitously. In a gimmick play to recoup losses, the team hires Rasheed Wallace as the new mascot, but following physical altercations with referees and fans alike, they are back to square one. The team finally acquiesces to Westbrook and allows him to fill the role of player/coach and Portland finishes the season with the worst record in NBA history at 8-74. Their lead scorer, Grayson Allen, averages 14.9 points per game.

2024-25 NBA Season

Following prolonged disputes between team owner Jody Allen and the Trail Blazers’ top-brass, Allen decides it’s time to move on and sells the team to a Silicon Valley-based tech group that specializes in sports gambling. Seeing a major opportunity to capitalize on the moment in sports-betting, the group fleshes out the details with the NBA and local government to move the Blazers to Las Vegas. Fans in Portland are largely apathetic as the team had already been forced to play in nearby Vancouver, Washington following the hostile takeover, led by Steve Blake and John Canzano, of the newly named Antifa Moda Center. The previous season’s woes lead to the 2024-25 draft’s top pick, and now in their new hometown, the Las Vegas Blazers select Lebron James Jr. and position themselves as contenders for years to come.

Your move, Trail Blazers. The possibilities are endless.

Follow me @jordan_kirsch on Twitter and check out the Belly Up Basketball page for all the latest from the NBA hardwood.
Jordan A. Kirsch
About Author

Jordan A. Kirsch

NYC by way of PDX - Writing about all things Football, Basketball, and Fantasy Sports.

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