Who won the Harden deal?

By Shawn Dennis

It’s about damn time. After months on end of waiting to see what the Houston Rockets were going to do with their now problematic point guard, who wanted nothing to do with being in Houston after 9 seasons of “giving the city all he has,” James Harden is now a member of the loaded Brooklyn Nets. I think we all saw this coming, but nobody wanted to believe it finally fell into fruition. 

Before we dissect the trade and give a letter grade for each of the four teams involved, let’s try to fathom the players who got wrapped into Harden’s wishes of forming the newest super team.

Bear with me here. This writeup does look like a report card of an Honor Roll student, but that’s because no team had failed or done wrong in what they got as a result. 

Cleveland Cavaliers: Letter Grade – B+

For what it’s worth, the Cavs actually made out quite well in this trade. Jarret Allen was drafted back in 2017, which feels like forever ago, but is still only 22 years old and has a very promising future ahead of him, as his game is similar to that of two-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert. The Cavs also acquired a solid player that has been slept on throughout his 4-year career in Taurean Prince. Prince can easily fit either off the bench or in the starting rotation for Cleveland and provide valuable minutes as a two-way forward. This is exactly what the Cavs needed to continue their rebuild after the LeBron era and they gave up very little for what they will get out of these two guys. 

I’m still surprised however, that the Cavs wanted Jarret Allen, already having JaVale McGee, Kevin Love, Andre Drummond, Larry Nance Jr. and Thon Maker on the roster. Each of those players mentioned are now in a toss up position as to who will have more minutes (aside from Love and Drummond) and perhaps there might be another trade in the future, as there’s no need to keep that many forwards and centers on the roster. Especially when you’re in the middle of a rebuild. 

Regardless, the Cavs took no risk in this trade and managed to tack on two assets that have plenty of productive seasons to come or can be traded for other pieces, which is why they deserve a B+.

Indiana Pacers: Letter Grade – A-

After everything that happened, but didn’t actually come to life with the Celtics, the Pacers somehow managed to get tied into this trade. It appeared that Victor Oladipo was going to stay on the team after all, but he has now been shipped to the Rockets, which we will cover later. What the Pacers are getting in return out of Caris LeVert is unquestionably a spark on the offense and the proven accountability that he can lead a team as we have seen LeVert step-up in the playoffs before. LeVert and Oladipo are arguably interchangeable players, but LeVert being the younger man by two-years, being the bigger man by two inches, and not having the injury history like Oladipo’s, I think the Pacers made out well. 

Another separation between Oladipo and LeVert is the ability to accept their role. LeVert has clearly shown that he just loves the game of basketball and is willing to do whatever it takes to win. Not to say that Oladipo hasn’t done the same, but I believe LeVert will be a better fit for the future in the Pacers organization than Oladipo, whose contract expires after this season and had already shown interest in leaving even before this season began. The question that remains  is will this addition allow the Pacers to win more games and go deeper into the playoffs or will they stay about the same?

Houston Rockets: Letter Grade A.

For the new GM Rafael Stone to have to take over this Rockets team that had the biggest question mark as to what it would look like during this season is a job that few could handle in such a fashion. With the Russell Westbrook trade, the market for him was probably not the highest in what you’d get in return and having a player like John Wall in the conversation made Stone wisely go all in. 

James Harden’s postgame interview (now a farewell) after a brutal loss against the LA Lakers basically gave way for the Rockets to make a trade happen ASAP. DeMarcus Cousins had no filter either, as he mentioned the “disrespect” that Harden had towards the team. 

We need to emphasize the fact that the Rockets now have 8 future first-round picks through 2027 (4 swaps and 4 picks). Again, 8 first-round picks. Looking at their current roster that can still easily make the playoffs, so the Houston Rockets did not lose this trade. It would be one thing if Harden had the ambition to sign a ridiculous $50 million per year extension, but he wanted to get the hell out of H-Town. 

Now, was what the Philadelphia 76ers had to offer worth turning down for this trade? Unless Ben Simmons and around this many picks were in the conversation, then there’s no way that the Rockets did wrong here. There is however, one concern that’s preventing me from giving Rafeal Stone an A+ for this deal.

Rumor has it that Oladipo is already seeking a move out of Houston and wants to remain in the East. If the Rockets could’ve simply kept LeVert instead, there’s no doubt they deserve a perfect score. Keep an eye out for if Stone pulls the trigger again and makes another move to satisfy Oladipo’s request (Miami is where my head’s at). 

Brooklyn Nets. Letter Grade A+. 

If you really think that the Nets lost this trade, it’s only because you either aren’t a Nets fan or you don’t want to see another super team in the league. Not to say that I can’t concur, but anytime a team trades for a guy that once averaged 36-points in a season, has four 60-point games, is a former MVP, never missed the playoffs, and has three scoring titles to his name, how can you argue that they lost in this deal? 

James Harden has plenty of gas left in the tank and now that he’s in the weaker conference, his chances of making it to the Finals have only doubled, if not tripled. The Kevin Durant reunion is what both Harden and Durant both wanted and yes, there is skepticism in how Kyrie Irving will fit alongside Harden, but critics always want to doubt when all stars link together. It’s their only way of coping when greatness meets greatness. 

If the egos of these three future HOF’s can be put to the side just a smidge for the sake of winning a championship, then we can’t disclude the Nets from being in the conversation. Granted Kyrie has made the threat of sitting out for the rest of the season, which is the most Kyrie-esque move he’s made alongside burning sage in his return to the TD Garden or claiming the word is flat, but I’m still a firm believer that Harden and Durant alone can bring the Nets to a Finals while playing in the East. 

As of right now, the Nets are the fore-front winners of this blockbuster deal that can really only be proven otherwise when the Rockets finalize their eventual rebuild. 

The same assumption was made when Boston’s Big Three was traded to Brooklyn in 2013 for three future first rounders and a pick swap, look how that ended up, although I don’t think history will repeat itself this time. 

To answer the question presented, every team is a winner in this trade. Of course, if the Nets win the 2021 Finals, they will be the real victors here, but as of right now, everyone wins.

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