James Harden Traded to Brooklyn - Instant Reaction and Grades
After months of an uncomfortable stalemate in Houston, James Harden has finally been traded to the Brooklyn Nets as part of a four-team mega-deal. Here's the whole trade:
Rockets get: 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 get: James Harden
Pacers get: Caris LeVert, 2nd-rounder
Cavs get: Jarrett Allen, Taurean Prince
Wowza. There's so much to unpack here, so I figured I'd give my thoughts and grades on how each team fared in this seismic trade that will reverberate across the NBA.
Brooklyn Nets: A
It is rare that a player of James Harden's caliber becomes available in any capacity, and it's been a poorly kept secret that Brooklyn has been circling Harden since he requested a trade and tabbed the Nets as one of his preferred teams. The price was hefty: Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, Taurean Prince, and 3 of their own future firsts, a Milwaukee first, and 4 pick swaps.
There's history here with the Brooklyn Nets, who you may remember, gave away nearly a decade's worth of picks to combine Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen in 2013. That... did not as planned, and put the franchise into a bad spot until very recently. Anytime you are trading this many picks and swaps, including two of your exciting young pieces in Allen and LeVert, there is significant risk. Did I mention James Harden, Kevin Durant, and Kyrie Irving can all re-enter free agency after next year if they so choose?
However: The Nets are all in. All the freakin' way in. They didn't bring Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in as part of a long-term, sustainable project. They're gunning for a title here and now, and they've got this year and next to get it until free agency for their stars comes back up. There is no such thing as an extended window in the NBA anymore, and the Nets have paired 3 elite, offensive superstars together in a fascinating experiment.
How will they share the one basketball? What happens to their depth? Who's going to play any defense??? All fair questions to ask of this Brooklyn team. What I do know is this- there isn't a single team in the East that has a prayer of stopping these dudes on offense. These are 3 of the most incredible isolation scorers in our league, all on the same team. It will be interesting to see how Steve Nash and the Nets coaching staff decides to stagger these three stars, but if they start clicking, it's game over.
For me, this trade comes as a significant risk, but there was no other way the Nets were going to be able to top the rumored Ben Simmons offer from Philly without putting all of their picks and swaps on the table. To put the latest super team together while keeping James Harden from your direct competitor in the East is a win-win, which is why I'm giving this grade to the Nets. By the way- I've got the Nets winning the East and are now the biggest competition to the Lakers for the championship in 2021.
Houston Rockets: C+
I'm torn on this deal for the Rockets. On one hand, this situation with their franchise superstar had reached a point of no return after last night's game. The situation had become so toxic and untenable that it was time to make a move. They scored a haul of draft picks and swaps to help make up for the picks/swaps lost in the Russell Westbrook/Chris Paul trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder last offseason.
However, we are talking about one of the elite scorers of his generation, still in his prime, walking out the door for a lot of draft assets and.. not a lot else. Caris LeVert was re-routed to Indiana for Vic Oladipo, who is an expiring contract at the end of the year. They'll have to either flip him at the deadline, lose him for nothing, or have to pay him his long term contract, coming off a major injury. Not ideal.
If I had told you a month ago that James Harden would be traded to the Nets and somehow the Rockets are ending up with none of Dinwiddie, Harris, Allen, or LeVert in the deal, I think most Rockets fans would have said there is 0% chance of that happening. We always knew the picks and swaps were coming from Brooklyn. But to get none of the Nets' four best assets in addition to those picks is not ideal.
So they are left with a team that is just a little too good to tank, but not nearly good enough to compete for anything more than the play-in tournament. There were reports that they were looking for both a young star to build around along with future first round picks, and they missed out on the former. There is no Ben Simmons coming back Houston's way, and not even Caris LeVert or Spencer Dinwiddie, out with a torn ACL.
The value of the future Brooklyn picks may depend on KD, Harden, and Kyrie's free agency decision after next season. If they break it up, the Nets picks could be very valuable in the future. If they stick around, those Nets picks could be in the 20's for quite a while. But as of right now, they're a question mark. Picks and swaps far down the line are fun to dream about and may turn out to be a bounty, but there's no guarantee that anyone anywhere near the caliber player of James Harden will be in Houston for a long, long time.
Indiana Pacers: A
I love that the Pacers found a way to get involved in this trade and picked up Caris LeVert and a 2nd rounder for Oladipo, who is expiring at the end of the year. LeVert is a bonafide bucket-getter and at 26 years old, is ready to take on a bigger offensive role in Indiana.
The Pacers have quietly built a very solid squad that may or may not have fit with Oladipo going forward, and LeVert should seamlessly fit in as a fantastic scoring guard to go with their core of Sabonis, Holliday, Brogdon, Myles Turner, and more. At 7-4 they're tied for the 3rd best record in the East, and I think they're comfortably a playoff team. For me, swapping out Dipo for LeVert is a great little upgrade for them and you also get more years of control with LeVert, who is under contract through 2023. Grade A from my perspective.
Cleveland Cavaliers: B
For the Cavs, they give up Dante Exum, the Bucks’ 2022 first-round pick, and a future second-rounder to land Jarrett Allen and Taurean Prince. Yogi Ferrell and Thon Maker will reportedly be waived to make room for the new additions.
The fit is a little puzzling for the Cavs, who trade for Jarrett Allen to play center... and already have Andre Drummond, Javale McGee, Kevin Love, and Larry Nance Jr. on the roster. I really like Allen's game and he's just 22 years old, and perhaps there are already plans to move Drummond along to a new team for another asset. But the initial fit is weird.
Taureen Prince will make 25 million over the next two years before becoming a free agent, but he's a nice player who can help as another wing piece for the Cavs, who are clearly building momentum for the first time since Lebron left.
I think, long term, this is a good deal for the Cavs, who add a 22 year old Jarrett Allen to an already talented young core of Isaac Okoro, Collin Sexton, and Darius Garland. The Cavs will have to figure their bigs' rotation out, but I like what they're doing.