Analyzing Four-Team Blockbuster, James Harden Trade

The inevitable has finally happened. James Harden, who earlier demanded a trade to the Brooklyn Nets, has gotten his wish.

Let’s look at the full Harden trade and my winners and thoughts on this blockbuster deal.

Full Harden Trade Details

Nets receive Harden.

Houston Rockets receive Victor Oladipo via Indiana Pacers, Dante Exum, and Rodions Kurucs.

Three unprotected first-round draft picks from the Nets- 2022, 2024, and 2026. Plus, pick swaps in 2021, 2023,2025, and 2027.

One pick from the Cleveland Cavaliers: their 2022 pick via the Milwaukee Bucks.

Pacers receive: Caris LeVert and a 2nd round pick.

Cavaliers receive Jarrett Allen and Taurean Prince.

Analyzing the Harden Trade

Rockets Positives:

Houston gets a significant haul, but the question is whether it’s enough for a Top 10 player. ESPN insider Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted: “Houston GM Rafael Stone’s return of picks…is one of the strongest draft packages in league history.” Houston lost almost all of their draft capital trying to build a winner around Harden and to keep him happy, but have re-stocked with a massive haul of picks to help their rebuild.

Their addition of Oladipo’s expiring contract is interesting. On the one hand, Oladipo should fit in well- his game isn’t as on-ball dominant as Harden. Oladipo can shoot from range and likes to move the ball, which is a key to Head Coach Stephen Silas’s new system. It will also allow him to play the traditional 0ff-guard role with John Wall running the point and leading the team. Oladipo also plays strong defense, and his overall numbers of 20 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 4.2 assists per game are solid so far. His expiring contract allows them to see what they have, or enter free agency next year.

Negatives:

On the other hand, Oladipo’s major concern is his injury history. When we consider both Wall and DeMarcus Cousins also haven’t played at all last year, it’s worth highlighting. Fans may also question why the Rockets chose to move LeVert, who they acquired from Brooklyn. Houston demanded a young player to build around in-trade negotiations and received two in Allen and LeVert, yet chose to move them. It’s also worth wondering whether they would have been better off taking the deal on offer by the Philadelphia 76ers headlined by Ben Simmons. He was by far the best player that could have been acquired in the exchange. Exum and Kurucs appear to be mere throw-ins to make the finances work.

Nets

Positives:

It’s pretty simple really, they have formed a super team to rival the Los Angeles Lakers. On paper, Kevin Durant and Harden together are two generational talents. Two of the best scorers in the league on the same team is frightening, to say the least. If they can get Kyrie Irving to suit up, and buy-in after going off the grid this past week, this team may be un-guardable. They will be a mismatch nightmare all game long for opponents. They have to win though. Anything short of a championship in this short window will be considered a failure.

Negatives:

They have mortgaged their entire future which may well come back to haunt them. LeVert and Allen were also big contributors. Irving has already missed the vast majority of games since he signed last season, showing erratic behavior, to say the least. Adding Harden, who is already out-of-shape and has shown a proclivity to do what he wants, when he wants, is a possible recipe for disaster. Harden has also shown he struggles to play beside stars in their own right. Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook are examples.

Winners: Indiana Pacers

Indiana managed to be used as a third-team but came out with possibly the best deal of all. They traded Oladipo’s expiring contract for LeVert. He has two years remaining on his deal, has a huge upside, and was making a name for himself in Brooklyn. Durant was particularly a fan of LeVert’s game. This appears to be a win for Indiana, and Houston may come to regret moving him in this deal. Indiana has had a strong start to the year, and this trade pushes their playoff ceiling that much higher.

Also give credit to Cleveland, who received a really nice player in Allen to improve their team this year and in the future. It’s worth watching what happens with Andre Drummond now.

How the Harden Trade Happened

Harden and Houston’s relationship reached breaking point last night. Harden called out the franchise in startling terms after their two-game debacle against the Lakers. Post-match Harden said: “we’re just not good enough- chemistry, talent-wise, just everything. I mean, this situation is crazy. It’s something I don’t think can be fixed.” As soon as he said this, it was clear he was forcing the Rockets’ hand into making a move, quickly. Previously, Houston hoped they wouldn’t be rushed into making any move for their franchise superstar, but that plan changed. His comments brought a swift rebuke from Cousins, who said “for us to be on the receiving end of the disrespectful comments and antics, its unfair on us. It’s unfair to the guys in the locker room.” Wall went further: “come on, man, you want to jump off the cliff after nine games?” Silas then asked Harden not to come to practice, further indicating a trade was imminent.

Harden’s Behavior

Harden’s antics have disappointed the organization and observers. Showing up over-weight and late for training camp was merely part of it. He put the team into COVID-19 protocols affecting their December 23rd game due to his mask-less appearance at a party. Performance-wise, after a nice debut of 44 points against the Portland Trailblazers, it declined rapidly from there. In his past four games, he never exceeded 20 points, and visibly appeared dis-interested on many occasions, showing little to no effort on either end of the court. He clearly quit on the team long before last night. This trade was addition by subtraction in many ways.

Houston went into negotiations looking for multiple picks, and a young player to build around. The finalists in these negotiations were the 76ers and the Nets. Philadelphia offered Harden the opportunity to reunite him with former Rockets’ general manager Daryl Morey. He was reportedly willing to offer All-NBA star Simmons in negotiations. However, Brooklyn won the day, offering seven first-round picks as the main part of the deal.

Final Thoughts

There will be palpable relief in the Rockets locker room that Harden is gone and it might help them forge team chemistry. Ironically, Harden complained about chemistry, yet he clearly hadn’t done anything to help that issue. However, there will be a sense of sadness all round in Houston, due to how much he achieved for the franchise. He will rightly be in the conversation as the Rockets’ second greatest player in their storied history behind Hakeem Olajuwon. His scoring feats were up there with the greatest and should be remembered for it.

For me, the headline for the Rockets is the massive draft haul, which they commanded well after Harden’s recent performances. Oladipo may turn out to play a significant part in improving the Rockets right now and in the future. However, with his age and injury history, I can’t help but think the Nets’ haul alone was the better way to go instead of expanding it. Particularly, Indiana has made out incredibly well in this deal.

As for the Nets, they deserve credit for going all-in. As the saying goes, ‘you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.’ Well, they have taken their shot at a championship in a big way. If they fail to win a ring in their short championship window, then it’s fair to wonder about hitching their wagon to Harden’s troubled star. This will for sure be a must-watch. All teams should be fairly happy tonight, but the Nets have the biggest boom or bust potential due to the vast amount of picks given up.

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