The Houston Rockets traded James Harden to the Brooklyn Nets as part of a four-team trade that will also send Victor Oladipo to Houston.
The Rockets will receive Oladipo, Dante Exum, Rodions Kurucs, three unprotected Brooklyn Nets first-round picks (2022, 2024, 2026), four unprotected Nets pick swaps (2021, 2023, 2025, 2027) and a 2022 Milwaukee Bucks first-round pick (via Cleveland). The Cavaliers acquire Jarrett Allen and Taurean Prince, while the Indiana Pacers add Caris LeVert and a 2023 second-round selection from Houston.
The blockbuster comes one day after Harden said he didn't think the situation in Houston was tenable:
Mark Berman @MarkBermanFox26
James Harden asked if he’s surprised the #Rockets didn’t make a run: “We’re just not good enough..Chemistry, talent-wise, everything. It’s clear..I love this city I’ve literally done everything that I can..It’s crazy. It’s something that I don’t think can be fixed.” https://t.co/1bbfrytyUj
While the idea of trading one of the best players in the league may have seemed stunning at one time, Adrian Wojnarowski, Ramona Shelburne and Zach Lowe of ESPN reported in November that the Brooklyn Nets were a possible trade destination, which was surely a terrifying idea for the rest of the Eastern Conference considering they already have Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
Wojnarowski further reported that Harden turned down a two-year, $103 million contract extension because "he's singularly focused on a trade to the Brooklyn Nets."
According to Sam Amick and Kelly Iko of The Athletic, Harden also added the Portland Trail Blazers and Boston Celtics to his "preferred destinations" by December.
Harden's resume includes the 2017-18 MVP, the 2011-12 Sixth Man of the Year, three scoring titles, an assist title, seven All-NBA selections and eight All-Star selections. He led the league in scoring in each of the last three seasons and helped lead the Rockets to the playoffs in all eight of his years with the organization.
The Arizona State product averaged 34.3 points, 7.5 assists, 6.6 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game while shooting 44.4 percent from the field and 35.5 percent from three-point range during the 2019-20 campaign. However, his Rockets lost in five games in the second round to the Los Angeles Lakers, underscoring the biggest question with Harden.
Houston never advanced past the Western Conference Finals when he was there, and it was fair to wonder if it would ever win the title with him as its best player. He's owed $85.7 million over the next two seasons, and he has a $47.4 million player option for the 2022-23 season.
The Rockets elected to move on and perhaps begin a rebuild by moving Harden, but Brooklyn now may have enough pieces to compete for a championship.
The combination of Harden, Durant and Irving is as talented a trio as there is in the NBA with playmakers spaced across the floor. Frankly, it would be a disappointment if they didn't make the NBA Finals, which would be the first time for the franchise since 2003.
The bigger question is whether Harden, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving—three superb iso scorers—can coexist. First-time Nets head coach Steve Nash has the difficult job of corralling three major egos into a cohesive unit. If he succeeds, this team will obliterate opponents, at least on the offensive end.
Houston, meanwhile, gets an enormous haul of draft picks and the chance to get a long look at Oladipo, who can be a free agent after the season. A core of Oladipo, John Wall, Christian Wood, Eric Gordon, P.J. Tucker, Exum and DeMarcus Cousins is intriguing, and escaping the Harden drama should be a major relief inside the locker room.
The Rockets aren't a title contender, but they have enough talent in place to earn a spot in the Western Conference play-in tournament.
For Indiana, getting back LeVert—who is two years younger than Oladipo and under contract through the 2022-23 season—is a major win. There's an argument to be made that LeVert is barely a downgrade from Oladipo. Acquiring him for a player who was likely to walk after this year is fantastic work.
Finally, the Cavaliers snuck into this trade and got a talented young center in Jarrett Allen for little cost. The Cavs probably aren't done dealing—they have a glut of big men in Andre Drummond, Kevin Love, Larry Nance Jr. and JaVale McGee already—but from a value proposition, they hit a home run.