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LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA - AUGUST 04: James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets dribbles against the Portland Trail Blazers during the first half at The Arena at ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on August 04, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. 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 Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com

The NBA rumor mill knows no Christmas Eve.

According a report from Sam Amick and Kelly Iko of The Athletic, the Boston Celtics are one of two teams James Harden has added to his list of preferred destinations. The Celtics and Portland Trail Blazers are now the fifth and sixth teams tied to Harden, joining the Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia 76ers, Milwaukee Bucks, and Miami Heat.

Harden still has two years of team control remaining on his contract, plus a player option for the 2022-2023. So while his preference of landing spots could play into an eventual deal, there’s nothing forcing the Rockets to stick to his list. As for the Celtics’ interest in acquiring Harden, Amick and Iko write “the viability of a possible deal with the Celtics or Trail Blazers is unclear at this time.”

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Since requesting a trade in mid-November, Harden hasn’t done much to help his value or the Rockets ability to get a deal done. He initially demanded to be dealt to the Nets, removing any leverage Houston had. As he waits to find his next team, he’s been seen out in public on a regular basis, seemingly ignoring the league’s COVID protocols (Harden already had COVID back in July). His most recent outing to a club in Houston drew a $50,000 fine and league-mandated four-day quarantine.

The 31-year-old shooting guard is due $41.2 million against the cap this season, well beyond the Celtics’ record-breaking $28.5 million trade exception they received from Charlotte for Gordon Hayward. That means Boston would likely have to send a package back to Houston centering around Jaylen Brown and/or Marcus Smart.

HOUSTON, TX – OCTOBER 24: James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets drives to the basket defended by Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks in the second half at Toyota Center on October 24, 2019 in Houston, Texas. 

Will the Celtics be in on Harden despite the high price? There’s no argument that he can be a franchise-changing superstar. Last season, he led the NBA in scoring, averaging 34 points per game along with eight assists, and seven rebounds. He’s been an All Star for the last eight seasons, never scoring fewer than 25 points per game. On top of that he’s proven to be one of the most durable NBA superstars, playing at least 72 games in his first seven seasons in Houston, before playing 68 in last year’s pandemic-shortened campaign.

On the other hand, the Celtics seem to have things clicking, highlighted by their opening night win over the Milwaukee Bucks. They should be (rightfully) hesitant to part with Brown, who appears to be a budding superstar himself. Harden’s recent unpredictable and incautious behavior could also give the team pause.

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When discussing a potential Harden deal, many Celtics fans harken back to the 2017 acquisition of Kyrie Irving. There’s no debate that Irving’s skills were and still are among the best in the league, but he seemed to cause more harm than good behind the scenes for a young team that believed it had found its rhythm.

While it’s hard to argue Harden’s talent would push the Celtics to an elite level they’ve been grasping at for over a decade, there’s a lot that would need to happen for his addition to become a reality. That being said, it’s the NBA – and 2020 – so you can’t rule anything out.

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Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at Alexander.Barth@bbgi.com.