The James Harden era in Houston came to an end last week, as the former NBA MVP was traded to the Brooklyn Nets in a mammoth deal that included 4 teams and 7 players. Reports of Harden requesting a trade surfaced back in November, but the Rockets tried doing everything they can to salvage the situation between their franchise, including trying to sell Harden that a roster with new additions John Wall, Christian Wood, and DeMarcus Cousins could make serious noise in a highly competitive Western Conference. After Harden bluntly admitted he was not buying what the Rockets were selling following back to back blowouts at the hands of the Los Angeles Lakers, the Rockets moved fast to make a deal before the team’s chemistry became a long-term issue. Less than 24 hours later, Harden was a member of the Brooklyn Nets in a deal that could have massive ripple effects around the NBA.
Received: G James Harden
Traded: To Cavs: C Jarrett Allen, F Taurean Prince, draft rights to Aleksandar Vezenkov
To Rockets: G Caris LeVert, F Rodions Kurucs, three first-round picks (2022, 2024 and 2026) & four first-round pick swaps (2021, 2023, 2025, 2027)
The Nets are going all-in for a championship not just this season, but for the next few seasons at the very least by pulling off a trade of this magnitude. Brooklyn is no stranger to making blockbuster deals, for better or for worse, but this is a move that elevates the team into the top tier of contenders in the Eastern Conference. Reuniting two of the greatest scorers in league history in James Harden and Kevin Durant, with a dynamic scoring All-Star point guard in Kyrie Irving when he returns, and a three-point sniper in Joe Harris ensures that the Nets will be an offensive juggernaut and probably the most fun team to watch on that end of the floor. Harden already looked terrific in his debut, dropping a 32-point triple double in a win over the Orlando Magic that also featured a cool 42-point performance from KD. Naturally, there will be questions about shot distribution and who takes the final shot in closing situations, but when your options are Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving, that can be a good problem to have and head coach Steve Nash should be able to handle the stars’ egos on the offensive side of the ball. Where my concern lies however, is with the team’s defense and bench depth, especially at the center position. Since 2021 kicked off, the Nets ranked 21st in defensive rating over an 8-game span before the Harden trade. This was before losing solid defenders in Taurean Prince and to a greater extent, Jarrett Allen. It also leaves the team relatively weak at the center position with DeAndre Jordan as the only true center on the roster, which is problematic given big men on contending teams such as Nikola Jokic, Anthony Davis, Joel Embiid and reigning back to back MVP Giannis Antetokoumpo. Even talented bigs on non-title contending teams can give Brooklyn fits, evidenced by Nikola Vucevic’s monster performance on Saturday night. Brooklyn has tried out Jeff Green as a small-ball center recently in the starting lineup, producing mixed results. The buyout market and trade deadline will be vital for the Nets to fill out their bench and add another defensive-minded big.
Received: G Caris LeVert (later traded to Pacers), F Rodions Kurucs, three first-round picks (2022, 2024 and 2026) & four first-round pick swaps (2021, 2023, 2025, 2027)
G Dante Exum & 2022 first-round pick (via Milwaukee) from Cavs, G Victor Oladipo from Pacers
Traded: To Nets: G James Harden
To Pacers: G Caris LeVert, 2023 second round pick
Houston had its ups and downs so far to start the season, but they put their belief into the refrain “time heals all wounds,” and that a backcourt of James Harden and John Wall would mesh with a frontcourt of PJ Tucker and Christian Wood along with the leadership of head coach Stephen Silas would not only convince Harden to stay with Houston but place them as top 4 seed in the West. That all changed after a duo of games against the Los Angeles Lakers, where after the second blowout loss in as many games led to Harden voicing his frustrations with the team, and Rockets players---most notably John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins, taking exception to Harden’s comments. Credit to the Houston organization for acting quickly on a situation that in Harden’s eyes, couldn’t be fixed. Losing a transcendent talent and franchise icon such as Harden is a big loss in many aspects, but Houston received a massive haul of draft picks in the deal, and a backcourt of Wall and new addition Victor Oladipo could fit better than the Harden-Wall pairing did. It will be interesting to see what direction this Rockets team will take for the rest of this season at least however, as key pieces PJ Tucker and Oladipo are on expiring contracts, making them more likely to be sought after around the trade deadline. Further complicating matters are rumors that Oladipo is not too happy about landing in Houston, and prefers a trade to the Miami Heat instead. Time will tell what this season holds for H-Town.
Received: G Caris LeVert, Nets’ 2023 second round pick, Cash Considerations from Nets, Cavs’ 2024 second round pick
Traded: To Rockets: G Victor Oladipo
While we will have to wait some time for LeVert to make his first appearance in a Pacers uniform after a small mass was discovered on his left kidney during his physical, Indiana deserves credit for flipping Oladipo’s expiring contract into a young star in LeVert. Oladipo has not looked like the electric 2017-18 version of himself since a major knee injury in January 2019, and reportedly was unhappy with the franchise while also declining an extension of his contract. LeVert should fit in nicely with a well-rounded Pacers team highlighted by underrated lead guard Malcolm Brogdon, and All-Star big man Domantas Sabonis. Best wishes to LeVert in his recovery, and the Pacers should be an even better team when he and key contributors TJ Warren and Jeremy Lamb all come back healthy.
Received: C Jarrett Allen, F Taurean Prince
Traded: To Rockets: G Dante Exum, Bucks’ 2022 first-round pick
To Pacers: 2024 second-round pick
There is a lot of chatter about the plethora of bigs on the Cavs’ roster, but not nearly enough about how they just acquired their center of the future while making out like bandits in the deal. Andre Drummond ‘s contract is set to expire this season, and Jarrett Allen is having the best season of his young career. Even better, he fits the Cavs rebuilding timeline perfectly as he is just 22 years old and adds more talent to a quietly good young core of Collin Sexton (25.1 PPG, 22 years old, 3rd season), Darius Garland (17.2 PPG, 6.3 APG, 20 years old, 2nd season), Isaac Okoro (5th overall pick in this year’s draft), Cedi Osman and Kevin Porter Jr. Taurean Prince is also another good piece who brings toughness and adds depth to the wing as a 3-and-D player that can guard multiple positions. When you take into account that Cleveland only gave up the expiring contract of injured guard Dante Exum, a future second round pick and a Bucks pick that will likely fall in the lower 20’s of the draft, GM Koby Altman deserves a lot of credit for getting involved in this deal and greatly improving their future as a result.