The bomb that the entire NBA world was waiting to go off finally detonated on Wednesday, as the the Brooklyn Nets acquired James Harden from the Houston Rockets in a seven-player, four-team deal that dramatically alters the landscape of the league. Harden joins Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn, while the Rockets come away with Victor Oladipo from the Indiana Pacers and a hoard of future first-round picks from the Nets.
This deal has far-reaching ripple effects because of the number of players involved and the magnitude of Harden's franchise-changing ability. Here's a look at some winners and losers from the Harden trade, but first let's go over the details:
- Rockets get: Victor Oladipo, Rodions Kurucs, Dante Exum, four unprotected first-round picks (Brooklyn 2022, 2024 and 2026, Milwaukee 2022), and four unprotected first-round pick swaps (2021, 2023, 2025, 2027).
- Nets get: James Harden
- Pacers get: Caris LeVert, 2023 second-round pick (from Houston)
- Cavaliers get: Jarrett Allen, Taurean Prince
Winner: James Harden
Disagree with his tactics all you like, but James Harden got what he wanted. He's on his way to Brooklyn to play with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving on what becomes the presumptive Eastern Conference favorite. Brooklyn was Harden's first reported preferred destination, so it's not likely that he regrets the way he handled the beginning of the season in Houston. It's going to be intriguing to see how Harden adapts his offensive style to fit in with Durant, Irving and the Nets, but with three of the best scorers in the league on one team, the Nets will be a must-watch for the foreseeable future.
Winner: Brooklyn Nets
The Nets now have three top-20 players on the same roster, which makes them even more of a title contender than they already were. It's really as simple as that. The depth took a hit, but Steve Nash will tinker with the rotations to make something work, and as our James Herbert detailed, the front office still has options to improve the roster. If the Nets stay healthy, they could have the best offense in the history of the NBA (that sounds hyperbolic, but the Dallas Mavericks did it last season with much less star power). According to SportsLine, Brooklyn's chances of winning the 2020-21 title nearly doubled by acquiring Harden. That makes you a winner every day of the week.
Loser: Philadelphia 76ers
The Sixers were reportedly in an arms race with the Nets for Harden, and they wound up on the losing end. Not only does that mean that they miss out on adding Harden to a team that jumped out to a 7-1 start before the roster was depleted by health and safety protocols, but they also now potentially have to reckon with the Durant-Harden-Irving Nets in the Eastern Conference playoffs. There's the added wrinkle that Ben Simmons assuredly knows by now that he was made available in talks, which could disrupt a 76ers squad that has already experienced noted chemistry problems in the past.
Winner/Loser: Steve Nash
On one hand, Nash could end up winning a title in his first year as a head coach. On the other hand, he'll have to carefully navigate the strong, unique personalities of Harden, Durant and Irving for this season and beyond. It will be interesting to see what things look like after their first extended losing streak. Godspeed, my friend.
Winner: Houston Rockets
The Rockets would probably be considered a winner just for getting Harden out of town so they can finally concentrate on basketball, but they also picked up a legitimate haul for their All-NBA guard. Our Sam Quinn graded them rather harshly, suggesting they should have pulled the trigger for Simmons, but the Rockets loaded up for the future with essentially every first-round pick that the Nets could trade, putting them in a similar position as the New Orleans Pelicans and Oklahoma City Thunder in terms of future assets.
They also acquired Victor Oladipo, who is two years removed from an All-Star season and should help them in the short term. He's a free agent after this season, but you'd have to think the Rockets intend to sign him or else they would have just taken LeVert as an asset. John Wall, Victor Oladipo, Christian Wood and DeMarcus Cousins should be enough to at least remain competitive this season, then Houston can reassess its direction at a later time.
You can nitpick whether the Philly package would have put the Rockets in a better position, but there's no denying that they're in an infinitely better spot than they were a few days ago, which makes them a winner.
Loser: City of Houston
Houston fans have been delighted by one of the most forward-thinking, successful franchises in the NBA since Harden arrived before the 2012-13 season. The Rockets should still be competitive, but the days of the 55-plus-win seasons are likely in the rear-view mirror for a while. Depending on how the front office proceeds, the Rockets could even have a full rebuild on their hands in a few seasons. Houston fans loyally embraced their franchise as they drew the ire of many around the world, so it's a shame to see their moment in the spotlight potentially coming to an end.
Winner: Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cavs made some sneaky good moves this offseason, and they pulled off another one by inserting themselves into this deal and coming away with Jarrett Allen and Taurean Prince in the process. Allen was having a breakout season for the Nets, averaging career-highs in points (11.2), rebounds (10.4) and blocks (1.6), and all Cleveland gave up in the deal was Dante Exum, who was averaging fewer than four points in 19 minutes per game. With Andre Drummond a free agent this offseason, they can move forward with a young core of Allen, Collin Sexton, Darius Garland and Isaac Okoro. Not bad for a rebuilding franchise.
Loser: Taurean Prince
Though he left something to be desired, Prince was at least playing a meaningful role on a team with NBA championship hopes. Now he'll join the Cavaliers, who will likely be out of the playoff hunt for most of the season. As time passes the Cavs will want to give as many minutes as possible to developing young players, which means Prince could find himself piling up DNP-CDs for a decent chunk of the season. Nobody's going to feel sorry for a guy making $13 million a year, but it's certainly not an ideal situation for Prince.
Winner: Indiana Pacers
Much like the Cavs, the Pacers were an unexpected part of this deal and wound up getting Caris LeVert and a second-round pick for Oladipo, who has seemingly been somewhat unhappy in Indiana. Particularly with the emergence of Malcolm Brogdon and Domantas Sabonis over the past couple of seasons, Oladipo's days in Indiana appeared to numbered, so it was wise for them to get a quality player like LeVert, signed through 2023, rather than risking Oladipo leaving in free agency this offseason.
Winner: Caris LeVert
Even Steve Nash admitted that LeVert is a starting-caliber NBA wing, but he was relegated to a bench role given the presence of Irving and Durant in the Nets' starting lineup. He won't have to worry about that in Indiana, where he'll slot into the starting lineup immediately and will see all the opportunity he can handle, particularly with TJ Warren out indefinitely after foot surgery. The Pacers may not be the title contender that the Nets were, but they have gotten off to a great start this season and should fight for a top-four seed in the East.
Loser: Milwaukee Bucks
The prohibitive favorite to win the Eastern Conference entering the season, the Bucks watched their attempted trade for Bogdan Bogdanovic fall through the cracks, and now their chief competition has added a perennial MVP candidate. Milwaukee likely has nothing to worry about in the regular season and could even end up with the No. 1 seed for the third straight season, but if they find themselves in a matchup with the Nets in the postseason, they're going to have their hands full.
Winner: Oklahoma City Thunder
Since OKC possesses so many future picks, virtually every trade will affect them somehow. In this case, the Thunder own the right to swap their 2021 first-round pick or the Heat's first-round pick for the Rockets' first-rounder. That Houston pick got a lot juicier with the team's win total likely decreasing with Harden's departure. Miami is off to slow start, but chances are they'll finish with a better record than Houston, meaning Oklahoma City is looking at another potential lottery pick in a loaded 2021 draft class.
Winner: Trade demands
With Anthony Davis winning a title with the Lakers over the summer and now Harden forcing his way to his preferred destination, superstar players may see this as a blueprint for getting out of an undesirable situation (cc: Bradley Beal). Harden was able to leverage the situation despite having two more years left on his contract, opening the doors for even earlier demands from stars in the future. The so-called player empowerment era in the NBA is in full swing.