In January of 2021, the NBA landscape shifted drastically when the Houston Rockets sent James Harden to the Brooklyn Nets in a four-team trade. Last month, we looked at the move that got Harden to the Houston Rockets. Today, we dive into one of the biggest trades in recent NBA history as we review and grade all four teams involved in this blockbuster.
Revisiting the James Harden to Brooklyn Trade
The End of the Harden Era in Houston
Despite his success with the Rockets, many will think of his exit from the team when this topic comes up. Harden may be the best player the Houston franchise has seen since Hakeem Olajuwon. The 2017-18 MVP made the All-Star team in each of his eight full seasons with the Rockets. Harden also led the team to the playoffs every year. Despite this success, the 2020-21 season was tumultuous from the start. Harden was openly frustrated with his team and began to draw the ire of his teammates. DeMarcus Cousins called out Harden hours before the three-time scoring champion was traded to Brooklyn. Cousins expressed his frustrations at Harden’s behavior leading up to the season.
To briefly recap, Harden held out at the beginning of that year’s training camp. When he did arrive, the COVID requirements at the time cost Harden and the Rockets six more days. This missed time felt more impactful since first-time head coach Stephen Silas lost precious prep time with his team’s best player. Harden was again sidelined for four days to start the season when the NBA fined him for attending a party that violated the league’s health and safety protocols.
When Harden finally hit the court, the results were poor. Houston was 3-6, above only the Minnesota Timberwolves in the Western Conference standings. Following consecutive losses to the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, Harden called out his team’s lack of talent in a virtual news conference. These comments and a lack of offensive production from Harden caused teammates like John Wall and Cousins to call him out. Houston’s hands were tied as they were forced to trade their disgruntled superstar.
The Harden-to-Brooklyn Trade Details
Houston sent Harden to the Nets in a four-team deal involving multiple players. Brooklyn sent Caris LeVert, Rodions Kurucs, three unprotected first-round picks (2022, 2024, 2026), and four first-round swaps (2021, 2023, 2025, 2027) to the Rockets.
The Cavaliers sent Dante Exum, a 2022 first-round pick (from the Milwaukee Bucks) to the Rockets, and a 2024 second-round pick to the Nets. Jarret Allen and Taurean Prince went to Cleveland in the deal.
Sources: Full current trade:
Rockets: Victor Oladipo, Dante Exum, Rodions Kurucs, 3 BKN first-rounders (22, 24, 26), 1 MIL first (22, unprotected), 4 BKN 1st round swaps (21, 23, 25, 27)
Nets: James Harden
Pacers: Caris LeVert, 2nd-rounder
Cavs: Jarrett Allen, Taurean Prince
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) January 13, 2021
Indiana Pacers: B
To start with the easy one, Indiana made the best of a bad situation with this move. Oladipo was reportedly so unhappy in Indianapolis that he openly asked other teams if he could come to play with them. Indiana would flip LeVert the following year. The Pacers sent him to Cleveland for Ricky Rubio, a lottery-protected first-round pick and two second-round picks. The Pacers are committed to the tank and have a promising future. This deal helped them acquire more assets in pursuit of that goal.
Cleveland Cavaliers: A+
Allen is an All-Star with a bright future ahead of him. The cost of a late first-round pick, a second-round pick, and a reserve combo guard is an absolute steal. Now that Cleveland has added Donovan Mitchell to their ranks, this deal looks even more significant in creating this Eastern Conference upstart.
Houston Rockets: B
Again, Houston made the best of a bad situation here. This might have been a better grade if they hadn’t gambled on Oladipo. Overall, three firsts and four first-round swaps seem like a good haul, especially for a player actively working to leave. It is challenging to judge picks that haven’t been made yet, but Houston used the 17th overall pick to select Tari Eason this year, so we will begin to have a little more clarity on this outcome as the season progresses.
Brooklyn Nets: D
It’s hard to give a team a failing grade when they acquire a member of the NBA 75 squad, but here we are. Harden’s honeymoon with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving soured quickly. This resulted in another blockbuster that sent Harden to the Philadelphia 76ers for Ben Simmons. You can’t blame Brooklyn for making this trade, and it might not be their fault that Harden wanted out. Irving and Durant missed a lot of time last season. Who knows what might have happened if they had played more early on? Nevertheless, the Nets sent seven picks, two quality role players, and an All-Star for an 80-game rental of Harden.