B/R NBA Experts Grade Every Team from Blockbuster James Harden Trade

Bleacher Report NBA StaffFeatured ColumnistJanuary 14, 2021

Houston Rockets guard James Harden questions a cal during the first half of the team's NBA basketball game against the Brooklyn Nets, Friday, Nov. 1, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

It took nearly two months and ultimately four teams to make it happen, but James Harden is (finally) a member of the Brooklyn Nets.

As reported by Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium, Houston brings back Victor Oladipo from the Indiana Pacers, Dante Exum from the Cleveland Cavaliers, Rodions Kurucs and three unprotected Nets first-round picks (2022, 2024, 2026)—all in addition to four unprotected Nets pick swaps (2021, 2023, 2025, 2027) and a 2022 Milwaukee Bucks first-round pick (via Cleveland).

As part of the deal, the Cavs bring in Jarrett Allen and Taurean Prince, and the Indiana Pacers acquire Caris LeVert and a second-round pick.

Bleacher Report asked four NBA writers to break down the latest blockbuster and grade every team's outcome as they see it.


Dan Favale

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Michael Conroy/Associated Press

Houston did incredibly well here. Even with two full-ish seasons left on his deal (and a $46.9 million player option for 2022-23), James Harden limited its leverage by narrowing his wish list. Getting a total of eight unprotected first-round picks and swaps is huge.

Two questions still loom: Was Ben Simmons on the table from the Sixers? If so, as a 24-year-old entrenched superstar under contract through 2024-25, he would have offset the vast majority of the picks the Rockets are acquiring. Beyond that, their decision to reroute the affordable Caris LeVert to Indiana for an about-to-be-more-expensive Victor Oladipo hints at an immediate desire to stay relevant. That might be fine given Houston doesn't control many of its own firsts in the near term.

The Nets are taking a huge risk, and they're entirely justified. They paid a premium, but they're operating on a two-year window since Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and now Harden can all become free agents in 2022 (player options). The urgency is real.

Concerns about their defense and depth are fair. But the former was already an issue. And while the Nets are shallower, they're now better built to navigate Irving's ongoing absence and any games Durant inevitably misses.

The Cavs hit a home run. They nab Jarrett Allen, a viable defensive anchor, and another wing without giving up anyone of significance or one of their own firsts. That 2022 Bucks pick is shaping up to be a late-round afterthought.

This is calculated gamble for the Pacers. Oladipo is playing well and has a higher ceiling, but he's about to get max or near-max money in free agency. LeVert is on a much friendlier contract, a better passer and replaces a chunk of Oladipo's off-the-dribble scoring.

Nets: B

Rockets: B+

Cavs: A+

Pacers: B+


Sean Highkin

New Rockets general manager Rafael Stone was put in an impossible position by Harden's approach to forcing a trade, and he came out about as well as anyone could have—with a ridiculous eight unprotected picks and swaps and Oladipo, who has looked much better this season than he did in his brief return to action with the Pacers last year.

Indiana, too, did well to turn Oladipo (28), who was likely out the door after this season, into the younger LeVert (26), who is under contract for two more seasons beyond this one.

The Cavs added a young, improving center in Allen, whose developmental timeline matches up with those of Collin Sexton and Darius Garland, without giving much up.

As for Brooklyn, the team that actually ended up with the superstar? That's a little more complicated. The on-paper combination of Harden, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving is one of the most potent offensive trios in league history, but Harden and Irving are both ball-dominant guards whose skill sets are redundant, and we still have no idea when Irving will be back with the team—if he is. Steve Nash has a lot to figure out, to say nothing of the hole general manager Sean Marks put himself in giving up that many picks. It's pretty similar, actually, to what he walked into when he took the job.

He did well digging himself out that time; can he do it again if this goes sideways?

Rockets: A 

Pacers: A-

Cavs: A-

Nets: B


Greg Swartz

Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

This trade was a long time coming, a deal that was eventually fueled by James Harden's postgame quotes following a loss to the Los Angeles Lakers and Kyrie Irving's absence from the Brooklyn Nets.

This seems like an A or F trade for the Nets. It won't collapse like the Paul Pierce-Kevin Garnett disaster of 2013 (at least not right away), but giving up draft control for the next seven years is risky, considering both James Harden and Kevin Durant will likely be nearing retirement. If they end up winning even one championship, it will all be worth it, of course.

Did the Nets really need Harden, however? Brooklyn had the NBA's seventh-ranked offense this season even with Durant and Irving missing nine total games for personal reasons and quarantining. Losing Allen is a big blow to the defense, as DeAndre Jordan isn't nearly as good as the 22-year-old.

Houston joins the Oklahoma City Thunder in owning half the league's draft picks over the next decade, putting the franchise in a tremendous long-term position. For now, they're a borderline playoff team with Oladipo. While the picks are nice, coming away with a player like Ben Simmons or Tyler Herro would have been even better.

The Pacers play it safe by trading for the 26-year-old LeVert who won't be a free agent until 2023. It solves any hesitation about Oladipo leaving or overpaying him given his difficulty regaining form since suffering a ruptured quad tendon in his right knee in January 2019. 

Cleveland got the best overall value in the deal given that the stock of the Milwaukee Bucks' 2022 unprotected first plummeted when Giannis Antetokounmpo agreed to re-sign. Swapping Dante Exum (who is injured and was likely going to walk in free agency), the Bucks pick and a 2024 second for a franchise center in Jarrett Allen was a steal, especially since Cleveland won't have to overpay Andre Drummond in free agency now.

Nets: C

Rockets: B+

Pacers: B+

Cavaliers: A


Grant Hughes

My first reaction is that this is quite a come-up for the Rockets, who basically own the Nets' draft through 2027, get a look at Oladipo ahead of free agency, duck under the tax and rid themselves of a player who was clearly done with the franchise.

That said, this is the rare four-team deal that makes sense for everyone involved. Brooklyn makes a massive splash, mortgages its future and gets the best player involved, but it'll have to navigate one of the trickiest ball-sharing experiments we've seen. And its defense, a weakness already, got weaker.

I like Indiana getting LeVert for Oladipo, who seemed like a goner in free agency, and the Cavs were smart to slip in and get a 22-year-old starting center for a minimal draft outlay.

Nets: C

Rockets: A

Pacers: B+

Cavs: A-