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8 Fearless N.B.A. Season Predictions

Credit...Mark Mulligan/Houston Chronicle, via Associated Press
 Houston’s James Harden is widely expected to be traded soon. But Kevin Love? Zach LaVine? LaMarcus Aldridge? They could be on the move, too.

The N.B.A.’s 75th season began Tuesday night with wins by the Nets and the Clippers. A new calendar year arrives in just nine days.

The time, then, has never been more right to consult our crystal roundball for the usual batch of eight (almost) fearless predictions for what awaits in #thisleague in coming months:

James Harden will be traded no later than Jan. 25 — two full months before this season’s trade deadline.

The initial rumblings, at the start of Harden’s standoff with the Houston Rockets, suggested that a trade was unlikely to materialize until closer to the March 25 deadline. The Rockets were determined to first see if they could repair their relationship with Harden, then to leverage the two guaranteed seasons left on his contract on the trade market.

More current rumblings indicate that tension within the Rockets is mounting each day Harden goes untraded. The Athletic illuminated some of that tension with a report Tuesday that Harden recently threw a ball in practice at Jae’Sean Tate, his new rookie teammate. Both sides now want to move on as quickly as possible. It’s time.

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I still regard Philadelphia as the most likely landing spot for Harden, largely because Ben Simmons most closely fits the description of the sort of building-block player Houston is holding out for in return. I’m also told that the familiarity between Daryl Morey and his Rockets successor, Rafael Stone, will outweigh any lingering ill feelings from Morey’s move to Philadelphia as president of basketball operations less than two weeks after he walked away from his Houston contract. I know Morey has said that Simmons is going nowhere. I also know Morey made similar statements about Chris Paul before he traded Paul to Oklahoma City for Russell Westbrook.

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The Heat let it be known this week that they are not actively pursuing Harden, which is a blow for the Rockets because Miami is one of those fearless teams with the oft-proven gumption to embrace an enigma like Harden in spite of the various red flags. The Sixers and the Nets, though, may not be the only other options: In recent days, it has become known that Toronto, Boston and Denver have also had exploratory talks with Houston.

The Rockets will keep probing the market, as eager to move on now as the superstar they catered to for the past eight seasons.

At least three of the following five players will be traded this season in addition to Harden: LaMarcus Aldridge, Aaron Gordon, Buddy Hield, Zach LaVine and Kevin Love. Maybe even all five.

Love’s case is the most intriguing. He has $91.5 million left on his Cleveland contract with two more seasons after this one. Yet the flurry of contract extensions we’ve seen during the N.B.A.’s truncated off-season may encourage a team or two out there to sacrifice some future salary-cap flexibility to absorb Love’s deal, knowing that free-agent options will be more limited than anticipated.

Editors’ Picks

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What We Learned From Week 15 of the N.F.L. Season

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