Updated: Jan 13, 2021
Yesterday afternoon, news broke that James Harden had been traded to the Brooklyn Nets in a massive four-team exchange. Harden had been frustrated with the Rockets organization for years, but tensions came to a peak in the last week. Following Houston's loss to the Lakers on Tuesday night, then-teammates DeMarcus Cousins and John Wall voiced their own annoyance with Harden.
"The other 14 guys of the locker room have done nothing to him," Cousins said. "We've only showed up to work like everybody else. It's completely unfair to the rest of the guys in the locker room."
Now, both Harden and the Rockets can start fresh and try to make respective pushes toward the playoffs. Here are my thoughts on the transactions for each of the four teams involved in the deal.
Received: James Harden
The Harden-Nets connection had been brewing for quite some time in recent months. Harden even turned down a two-year, $103 million contract extension with Houston because he was solely focused on a trade to Brooklyn. Now, the 8-time All-Star will pair up with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving and send shockwaves throughout the Eastern Conference. The question is how their three egos will coexist; Irving already went AWOL this season, citing "personal reasons" as a justification.
Brooklyn gave up a ton of assets to land Harden. Their already-thin bench has become even thinner, and they gave up most of their draft capital to enter full "win now" mode. Anything short of a championship in the next two seasons should be considered a major disappointment.
Received: Victor Oladipo, Dante Exum, Rodions Kurucs, 3 Brooklyn first-round picks (2022, 2024, 2026), 1 Milwaukee first-round pick (2022 unprotected), 4 Brooklyn first-round swaps (2021, 2023, 2025, 2027)
The Rockets are in official rebuild mode. However, Victor Oladipo is no slouch of a consolation prize; he's averaging 20 points per game this season. He will slot in the starting lineup in place of Harden and join John Wall to form a new Houston backcourt. The two guards and Christian Wood are a solid core that will prevent the Rockets from fully resorting to tanking.
When they traded for Russell Westbrook back in July 2019, the Rockets relinquished their 2024 and 2026 first-round picks to the Thunder as well as pick-swaps in 2021 and 2025. This trade will restock their armory, but Houston general manager Rafael Stone can't afford to miss on selections in the near future.
Received: Jarrett Allen, Taurean Prince
This is an interesting trade on Cleveland's part, to say the least. Hopefully, a change of scenery will bode well for Taurean Prince, who is averaging just over eight points per game – the lowest since his rookie season in 2016. The Cavs needed wing depth, as Cedi Osman is struggling in terms of efficiency and rookie Isaac Okoro is averaging 36 minutes per game.
The head-scratching part for me is how Jarrett Allen will find sufficient minutes this season. Cleveland's frontcourt will now split time between Andre Drummond, Larry Nance Jr., Javale McGee, and Allen. Woof. I wrote about how the Nets needed to insert Allen into their starting lineup because DeAndre Jordan is getting older and Allen is a more valuable defender. Now, he could be stuck in a timeshare with multiple big men as Andre Drummond's backup. The one positive is that both Drummond and Allen will become unrestricted free agents this offseason. The Cavs can let Drummond and his massive contract go and re-sign Allen for a fraction of the price.
Received: Caris LeVert, 2nd-round pick
One could argue that the Pacers got better by swapping Oladipo with LeVert, and I'd agree. Oladipo will become a free agent this offseason, so Indiana dodged having to sign him to a massive extension. He'll turn 29 in May and already suffered a major injury that has sapped him of both athleticism and confidence. LeVert is younger, healthier, and more offensively adept than Oladipo. Without Irving and Durant in the lineup this season, LeVert has averaged 31 points, five rebounds, and nine assists per game.
Though the Pacers will be losing a valuable defender in Oladipo, they stayed true to their proclivity for building playoff teams on a budget. LeVert is owed $52.5 million over the next three years, a far cry from what they would owe an extended Oladipo. Plus, a draft pick never hurts, no matter what round. Just ask Malcolm Brogdon.