By Ryan Nixon
Breaking Down the Harden Megatrade
The NBA does drama like no other, managing to turn what looked like a mundane Thursday morning (New Zealand time) into an incredible news day for hoops heads. Rumours had been circulating about James Harden’s unhappiness at the Houston Rockets, with a couple of teams thought to be in line to swing a trade for him. There’s no denying that Harden is one of the premier offensive players in the league, with 8 All-Star and 6 1st Team All-NBA selections part of his resume. The last three seasons he’s led the league in scoring, but despite roster moves to try and help him, his Rockets have consistently fallen short of the NBA Finals.
Adrian Wojnarowski and Shams Charania were of course the pair with their ears to the ground, both breaking news around the mega trade. The Brooklyn Nets, with Kiwi Sean Marks as their General Manager, were the team to land Harden, completing an All-Star trio with two players who have won NBA rings in Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Since landing the role of GM, Marks has done an incredible job of turning around a franchise stripped of draft assets and talent by the previous front office management. They were already a side poised to make a leap into the top echelon of the Eastern Conference, with Irving and Durant giving them the superstar talent, alongside a roster full of versatile role players, veterans and young talent.
This move however is a swing for the fences. It’s a win-now trade for the Nets, giving up a lot of assets in return for Harden. Marks and coach Steve Nash will be hoping that Harden is not only the man to make this team a contender, but a juggernaut to roll past the Milwaukee Bucks, Miami Heat, Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers on the way to the NBA Finals.
Two other teams got themselves involved in the trade to make it work and might ultimately be the biggest winners in the deal. So let’s break down the trade in its entirety, with my views on each team’s haul.
RECEIVE: James Harden
GIVE UP: 3 x 1st round draft picks, 4 x 1st round draft pick swaps, Rodions Kurics (all Houston), Caris LeVert (Indiana Pacers), Jarrett Allen, Taurean Prince (both Cleveland Cavaliers)
As covered above, acquiring Harden gives them a third superstar on their roster. All three are players capable of exploding for 25 plus points a night, which will make them a difficult matchup for any defensive unit. However, they have given up a giant haul. The draft picks alone mean they’ll lose three of their own first round picks over the next 7 years, while the swaps give up protection they might have should they fall into the lottery below Houston. It’s a huge gamble on this trade working and making Brooklyn competitive for the best part of the next decade.
The inclusion of Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen in this deal is what bothers me most though. LeVert has shown glimpses of his talent since being drafted 20th overall by the Nets in 2016. Injuries have held him back somewhat, but he’s a slick ball handler capable of creating for others as well as himself. Allen meanwhile is still raw as a 22 year old, but is athletic, shoots well and can defend the rim. He had supplanted veteran DeAndre Jordan, who will now likely go back to starting, while Durant will likely also fill the center spot in small lineups. The loss of LeVert, Allen and Taurean Prince also diminishes their depth in the rotation, which could haunt them if the injury bug bites.
RECEIVE: Victor Oladipo, Dante Exum, 4 x 1st round draft picks, 4 x 1st round draft pick swaps, Rodions Kurucs.
GIVE UP: James Harden (Brooklyn), 2nd round pick (Indiana)
The Rockets had a disgruntled superstar and appear to be embracing the rebuild under GM Rafael Stone. Victor Oladipo gives them an All-Star in return, but he’s yet to rediscover his pre-injury form from two seasons ago and is also on an expiring deal. It’s possible that rather than looking to re-sign him beyond this season, Houston look to flip him for further draft picks to build a young team around. Nobody wants to be stuck in the middle in the NBA; you want to be really good or really bad. It’s unlikely that Houston will be really bad just yet considering the veterans remaining on their roster, but Stone’s move in this trade clearly has an eye to the future. Kurucs and Exum have yet to really prove themselves at this level, although Kurucs is still just 22 years old.
RECEIVE: Caris LeVert, 2nd round pick
GIVE UP: Victor Oladipo (Houston)
GM Kevin Pritchard swooped when he saw an opportunity. Victor Oladipo had made it clear he wasn’t determined to stay in his home state of Indiana, or at least not with the terms being offered to him by the Pacers. So, much like Pritchard did in the Paul George trade when he acquired Oladipo to begin with, he sent him packing. LeVert gives them a player who is much cheaper than Oladipo, signed through the 2022-23 season and offers them a scoring punch that will likely fit better with new coach Nate Bjorkgren’s style of play. The Cleveland second rounder thrown in is just gravy. It’s another sneaky good move by the Indiana front office, on the back of the moves made for Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis, TJ Warren and Malcolm Brogdon.
RECEIVE: Jarrett Allen, Taurean Prince
GIVE UP: 1st round pick (via Milwaukee), Dante Exum (both Houston), 2nd round pick (Indiana)
The Cavs are rebuilding and can now place Allen alongside their other young players such as Collin Sexton, Darius Garland, Kevin Porter Jr. and Isaac Okoro. The Milwaukee pick is likely to not be worth much given the Bucks’ title credentials, so it seems a move worth making given the potential of Allen. Prince’s fit with the rest of the roster remains to be seen.
Overall, it’s a trade that shakes things up significantly in the league. Brooklyn will now be heavily favoured by the bookmakers to win the East, but will have to see how their superstars gel together and cross their fingers that their depth isn’t stretched by injuries, or covid. Houston figures to now bottom out in the West, perhaps make the waters slightly less muddier in a highly competitive conference. Indiana probably doesn’t move their needle much for this season, but they’ll be a tough playoff out and clear cap space to help build their roster going forward. Cleveland meanwhile gain a young piece to help their rebuild, as they try and find relevance again post-LeBron James.
Time will tell just how the trade pans out for all parties, but once again it gave us a reminder of how quickly the NBA can generate drama and buzz.
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