The Houston Rockets made a number of odd decisions in the process of trading James Harden. Rather than taking the All-NBA player in Ben Simmons, they chose Brooklyn's package of draft picks, and then, rather than holding on to young Nets Jarrett Allen and Caris LeVert, they flipped both for minimal returns. Allen netted them a first-round pick from the Milwaukee Bucks that is expected to be low, and LeVert got them Victor Oladipo, who they eventually traded to the Miami Heat for almost nothing.
Rockets GM Rafael Stone addressed the Oladipo trade Monday by saying the team "had kind of organizationally made a decision that the Victor [Oladipo] fit wasn't a good one." As Oladipo was a key portion of the Harden return, Stone also addressed that deal, and even seeing how well Harden has played in Brooklyn, he revealed that he stands by the trade.
"One of your colleagues texted me the day after the trade and they said they would evaluate me in 2027," Stone said, as transcribed by ESPN's Tim MacMahon. "And I told them that that was too early; they should do it in 2030. I think we felt at the time that we did the best deal for the franchise possible. Obviously, that's my job, so I did it. Particularly given the types of things we got back, yeah, it feels like you can't possibly know how you did for multiple years — like three, five, something like that. But I feel good about it. I do feel good about it. …
I would for sure, 100 percent, do that deal again. Again, you guys don't have the advantages of knowing everything I know, but literally no part of me regrets doing that deal. I have not second-guessed it for a moment.
A lot of what I said about being in a position maybe not to have to be bad [to rebuild], there's some other things that we've done, too, but it's primarily that deal that's allowed us to say, 'Hey, we want to compete on a slightly quicker timeframe.' We're not going to go down this path of intentionally trying to lose games for years on end."
Ultimately, if the goal was to avoid tanking, the Rockets failed. At one point this season, they lost 20 games in a row. Oladipo was healthy for the bulk of those games. P.J. Tucker was traded before the deadline, and LeVert, the younger player with multiple years of team control remaining, has looked good in Indiana thus far.
In theory, judging the Harden deal as a whole right now would be impossible. We don't know where those Brooklyn draft picks are going to fall. In general, though, the odds of any single pick turning into an All-NBA player are extremely low. Houston seemingly could've had one, and while the Brooklyn package may ultimately turn out to be better, the truth is that such an outcome is incredibly reliant on luck. Bad lottery luck could sour the deal. So would sustained Brooklyn success, or injuries to a prospect, or any number of other factors. In that sense, we may not technically be able to judge the deal, but every night Simmons continues to play like a star looks worse for Houston with hindsight. The whole point of stockpiling picks is the hope that you can one day draft someone as good as Simmons. Until and unless Houston actually does so, the Harden deal is going to look bad.