As you may have heard, the Rockets, Nets, Pacers, and Cavaliers have agreed to a four-team blockbuster trade. James Harden heads to Brooklyn. Victor Oladipo, Dante Exum, Rodions Kurucs, and a ton of draft picks are going to Houston. Caris LeVert and a second-round pick are going to Indiana. Jarrett Allen and Taurean Prince head to Cleveland.
The Nets and 76ers were the two teams battling it out for Harden’s services at the end of the race, but Philly felt the Rockets were using them as leverage to extract as many assets from the Nets, Harden’s preferred destination, a league source told HoopsHype.
According to one executive, Philadelphia blew a chance to improve their options as a contender by failing to land Harden.
“I think Philly missed an opportunity and now is stuck being in the middle of the East,” one Eastern Conference executive told HoopsHype. “They’re not as good as Brooklyn, Milwaukee, Boston, and in the end, Miami. They might just be a No. 5 seed by end of the season. Ben Simmons has not improved in one area of his game at all since coming into the league. He’s the same player today as he was in his rookie year, and teams have figured him out in the playoffs. He’s why they won’t go far.”
HoopsHype spoke with multiple executives about their reactions to the trade and what it means for all four teams that were involved moving forward.
“I like the deal for the Pacers and Houston,” another Eastern Conference executive told HoopsHype. “Brooklyn gave up a king’s ransom. Not sure why Cleveland took on Taurean Prince as well as giving up an unprotected pick swap. Harden is the best player in the deal, but Brooklyn is all in, and they have no protection in the future. Cleveland will look to dump Andre Drummond, and Jarrett Allen has a bright future in the league.”
Below is a breakdown of what the trade means for each team involved.
Brooklyn pushed all its chips in the center of the table to acquire Harden and form a superstar trio with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
“They better win it in the next two years,” a rival Eastern Conference executive told HoopsHype. “It’ll be interesting to see how all these players and personalities get along together.”
Durant, Irving, and Harden each have a player option for the 2022-23 season.
Irving has been away from the team for personal reasons, but was spotted in multiple videos maskless at a birthday party for his sister, which the league is investigating.
Harden rubbed former Rockets teammates John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins the wrong way.
DeMarcus Cousins on signing with the Rockets and James Harden wanting a trade: “My interest was playing with John Wall, to be brutally honest. The disrespect started way before any interview. Just the approach to training camp showing up the way he did, the antics off the court.” pic.twitter.com/pZKnF6CNon
— Michael Scotto (@MikeAScotto) January 13, 2021
From a chemistry perspective, Brooklyn now has three superstar players who all demand the ball at an elite rate and will need to sacrifice to make the trio work on the court. Harden ranks eighth all-time in NBA usage rate (30.69), Durant ranks 12th (30.16), and Irving ranks 16th (29.29).
Harden reunites with his former Thunder teammates, Durant and Jeff Green, and his former Rockets coach, Mike D’Antoni, in Brooklyn.
LeVert was the first draft pick of the Sean Marks era in Brooklyn after trading Thaddeus Young to acquire Indiana’s selection in 2016. It’s also worth noting LeVert and Irving share the same agency, Roc Nation, for representation. Without Allen, look for the Nets to play DeAndre Jordan and Green at center.
Houston moved a disgruntled star who was causing obvious tension in the locker room, stockpiled a boatload of draft picks for the future to either use or flip in future trades, and added Oladipo, a two-time All-Star.
Oladipo will be one of the top unrestricted free agents on the market after the season, as noted in our HoopsHype 2021 rankings.
“I’m not sure what happens there,” an Eastern Conference executive told HoopsHype. “They might just want to get off money, so took the expiring Oladipo to have financial flexibility next year. Or they could try to re-sign him and see him as a fit with Wall.”
Multiple executives believe the Rockets will eventually trade PJ Tucker by the trade deadline.
“I think Houston can move PJ in a separate deal later,” one executive told HoopsHype. “He will have value in the East, especially to combat Giannis and Durant. I can see Miami going after PJ and maybe even Boston.”
As noted in mid-December on HoopsHype, multiple teams have expressed interest in trading for Tucker, and if he remains with Houston through the season, he is open to re-signing with the Rockets in the offseason.
Rumors swirled that Oladipo wanted out of Indiana for a while, which he denied. According to one Pacers teammate, there wasn’t tension in the locker room with Oladipo despite the rumors that swirled about his future.
“He came into camp with a refreshed mindset and was committed to the team, zero tension,” one Pacers player told HoopsHype on the condition of anonymity since the trade is not official yet. “I think the trade surprised us all, but it’s part of the business. We all loved Vic in the locker room.”
In the end, however, the Pacers moved their star guard before potentially losing him for nothing this offseason.
LeVert has a chance to share the backcourt with Malcolm Brogdon as a full-time starter and is owed $17.5 million next season and $18.8 million for 2022-23. Brogdon’s shooting ability, paired with LeVert’s ability to slash and create off the dribble, should mesh well together.
“Great pick up,” the Pacers player told HoopsHype. “I’ve been a fan of his game for a while now. He has a lot of dog in him and will fit our young core.”
Multiple Eastern Conference executives believe the writing is on the wall for Drummond’s future in Cleveland after the team gave up a first-round pick to acquire Allen, who is five years younger. Drummond will become an unrestricted free agent after the season.
“Drummond is definitely out of Cleveland,” one Eastern Conference executive predicted. “Cleveland wouldn’t give up a first if they didn’t want Allen long-term.”
Allen will be one of the top restricted free agents on the market this offseason after Cleveland extends him a $5.66 million qualifying offer. Prince is owed $13 million next season.
You can follow Michael Scotto on Twitter: @MikeAScotto