James Harden trade grades: Nets go all-in on championship chase; Rockets do well with little leverage

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On Tuesday night, James Harden told reporters he didn’t think his situation in Houston could be fixed. Less than 24 hours later, Harden is on his way to Brooklyn.

The Rockets are sending Harden to the Nets as part of a four-team deal also involving the Cavaliers and Pacers, according to multiple reports. The 76ers appeared to be the favorites to land the eight-time All-Star as trade conversations picked up Wednesday, but Houston ultimately accepted Brooklyn’s offer, which includes immense draft compensation.

What does this deal mean for the Cavaliers, Nets, Pacers and Rockets? Here is a breakdown of blockbuster trade.

MORE: Why does Kyrie Irving keep missing games?

James Harden trade grades

Cavaliers receive: Jarrett Allen, Taurean Prince

Nets receive: James Harden, second-round pick

Pacers receive: Caris LeVert, second-round pick

Rockets receive: Dante Exum, Rodions Kurucs, Victor Oladipo, four first-round picks (all unprotected), four first-round pick swaps (all unprotected)

  • Nets’ picks in 2022, 2024 and 2026
  • Cavaliers’ pick in 2022 (via Bucks)
  • Pick swaps with Nets in 2021, 2023, 2025 and 2027

Nets: C+

Let’s be clear: The Nets now possess an incredibly talented trio with Harden, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Each player is a three-level scorer capable of dropping 30-plus points on any given night. No NBA team can match up with these guys on paper.

But there are just so many questions about this “Big Three.” Can Harden get back into shape and learn to change his game? Will Durant be able to stay healthy? Is Irving actually interested in playing basketball?

Aside from the major concerns, the loss of depth also presents on-court issues. Harden, Durant and Irving all rank in the top 20 on the all-time leaderboard for usage percentage. They will need to sacrifice touches and work together in order for the Nets to be a contender. Defensively, oh boy. We aren’t exactly looking at the 2003-04 Pistons here.

A shiver may have gone down Nets’ fans spines when this trade was reported because of the easy connection to the ill-fated deal that brought past-their-primes Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to Brooklyn. Harden is certainly not at that stage of his career, and the Nets are much better positioned to compete for a championship now than they were in 2013.

Still, this is a steep price to pay for a 31-year-old who completely checked out on his last team. Harden is under contract for at least 2020-21 and 2021-22 (plus a $47 million player option in 2022-23), so there is time for him to transform into his old self, but not much. The Nets handed over control of their next seven drafts to the Rockets. They need their stars to align, or the future could be dark.

Rockets: A-

Houston did an incredible job to recover and acquire several assets after Harden seemingly tanked his value with his poor play and antics. The Rockets didn’t snag a potential franchise cornerstone such as Ben Simmons, but they got a tremendous package of picks. That will give them a fresh influx of young talent over the next decade. 

As for the players, Oladipo is obviously the biggest piece. He has looked much improved after a lackluster “bubble” showing last year, averaging 20.0 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game. It’s possible he develops a nice chemistry with John Wall and Christian Wood.

If the Rockets don’t view Oladipo as a good fit, though, they can look to flip him before the 2021 trade deadline. Both Oladipo and PJ Tucker are on expiring contracts, so Houston could be a seller in March.

Regardless of where the Rockets end up in the standings, they have eliminated the toxic cloud hanging over the organization. First-year coach Stephen Silas and his players can finally move on.

Pacers: B+

Indiana looked terrific to start the 2020-21 campaign and appeared to be a real threat in the Eastern Conference. Swapping Oladipo for LeVert may lower the Pacers’ short-term ceiling, but it’s a smart long-term play.

Had Oladipo continued performing at a high level, the Pacers likely would have struggled to keep him in free agency. LeVert is signed through 2023, and at only 26 years old, he has his best years ahead of him. He must work on his defense and 3-point shooting (33.9 percent for his career) so he can be a spot-up threat when Malcolm Brogdon and Domantas Sabonis have the ball, but that could come in time.

Don’t sleep on the Pacers. They could make some noise in the 2021 playoffs.

Cavaliers: Incomplete

Even Andre Drummond thinks the Cavaliers have too many bigs on the roster.

Allen should fit well as a pick-and-roll option next to Collin Sexton and Darius Garland and cover up their defensive deficiencies as a rim protector. But will the Cavaliers clear the way for him to play, or will he be stuck backing up a veteran again?

Drummond, Kevin Love, JaVale McGee, Larry Nance Jr. — the frontcourt is way too crowded. Giving an incomplete feels like a bit of a cop-out, but there should be more changes coming in Cleveland. Let’s see what happens.

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