Is The James Harden Trade That Scary For The NBA?

By Saransh Sharma, Nikhil Pradeep, & Anish Dhondi

Guest Writer: Santosh Krishnan

By the time everyone reads this, it will have been about a week from the time that James Harden was traded to the Nets, giving everyone adequate time to come up with their opinions on the trade, but we are taking the approach that this is just after the trade, and the Nets have yet to play any games together with their new Big 3.

The Nets acquired James Harden, of course, but many other teams around the NBA became involved. The Cavaliers got Taurean Prince and Jarrett Allen, building up their young starting-5. The Pacers received Caris LeVert, Houston got Victor Oladipo, Dante Exum, Rodion Kurucs, four first-round picks, and four pick swaps. Wow, that is a lot of pieces traded. Here is our full analysis of the trade, and why you should not freak out as much as you may want to.

Saransh’s Analysis

Brooklyn’s Perspective: They got what they wanted. To acquire James Harden without giving up Kyrie Irving, but that might be the issue. Kyrie is currently away from the team to attend birthday parties while not wearing a mask, and attend meetings to discuss social justice initiatives. While I am in no way opposed to him working to make changes in this country regarding the racial injustices, to skip games and not communicate with your team to do so is not a good look at all. Do you see LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Russell Wilson, and Patrick Mahomes skipping games to do so? No, they are doing both, and Kyrie’s lack of communication and possibly even lack of care for basketball is concerning. Like Stephen A. Smith said on First Take on Wednesday, retirement is something we should not be surprised to see when it comes to Kyrie Irving.

Second, Harden is a pure 1v1, iso-ball player, with an enormous ego. Undoubtedly he will be able to score in bunches, but will players like Kyrie and KD be able to as well with him involved in the offense? Sure, Harden averages a lot of assists, but a lot of those assists come off of lob and alley-oop passes off the pick-and-roll. For Head Coach Steve Nash, the question will be to see if Durant, coming off of an Achilles injury, is willing to take on that task of being a more inside/paint-oriented player and attacking the basket. Due to having had the injury, I would expect Durant to miss some guys to rest the Achilles. If Harden can figure out how to give up the ball more, then Durant can thrive, as he has so far this season when Kyrie has done the same.

Third, what more does Kevin Durant need to beat LeBron? You already had Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Andre Iguodala, and now you have Kyrie and Harden at your disposal? I do not think we can judge KD and give him a ‘legacy’ of any sort besides saying that he needed superstars around him.

Lastly, I believe this team should make the Finals, but they will not beat the Lakers. There will be chemistry issues between the three of them and the rest of the team, the Nets now lack depth due to having traded players like Jarrett Allen, Caris LeVert, and Taurean Prince, so seeing players like Joe Harris and DeAndre Jordan play big minutes all season long will be interesting. Also, not having Spencer Dinwiddie due to his ACL injury which has him out for the season, puts even more responsibility on Harris, and Landry Shamet, who acquired this past offseason to be a key backcourt depth piece. With Kyrie AWOL, Harden’s love for strip clubs, and Durant having not played without multiple superstars for years, this team will have plenty of bumps along the road, and teams like Miami, Boston, Philadelphia, and Milwaukee, will give them a good fight, but they will still prevail and win the East. But beating LeBron James, Anthony Davis, the rest of that defending champion roster, and that depth and coaching? Come that time of year, the bumps in the road will be too much to drive over, and the team will be deemed a failure, much like the Warriors when they got DeMarcus Cousins, and much like the Rockets when they had Westbrook and Chris Paul alongside James Harden. Also, given that they gave up 8 years’ worth of draft capital and LeVert for Harden in what will be a 1-3 year experiment at the max is crazy. Then again, we have seen this with Brooklyn before.

Cleveland’s Perspective: Not much to say here. They got great young players who can be valuable trade pieces once this team gets ready to compete in the playoffs and also can give Collin Sexton more to build around and lead the team with. Cleveland has way too many big men now that they acquired Allen, so trading Andre Drummond and Kevin Love will be their top priorities, and if they play the cards right with the trades, they could sneak into the playoffs this season. Unlikely, but not impossible. This trade is a win and can be even better based on their future decisions around this trade.

Indiana’s Perspective: The Pacers are in the middle of being a contender and going into a full rebuild with this move. This allows the offense to be fully run with Malcolm Brogdon off-ball, LeVert can shine as a scoring star, and Domantas Sabonis can show how good he is, but in the end, same old Indiana. It is a winning trade to get younger, but it may not make them better.

Houston’s Perspective: Getting Victor Oladipo was probably not what the Rockets thought would happen in this Harden trade, but they will gladly take it if they can keep him this offseason, as he is a free agent after this season. As for this season, Oladipo alongside John Wall in the backcourt gives them an exciting backcourt with elite defensive skills, and his facilitating ability can make DeMarcus Cousins at least his Pelicans self if not his elite Kings self. The Rockets also have all of those picks for the future and can rebuild smoothly, without having to deal with any players that become distractions. 

Santosh’s Analysis

Brooklyn’s Perspective: This trade is scary because if all goes according to plan, the Nets might rewrite the scoring record book every night. Of course, it has to go according to plan. As of right now, James Harden is merely a Kyrie-goes-rogue safety net, but once Kyrie gets back and is fully focused, the Nets are capable of putting up 75+ points a game with just KD, Kyrie, and Harden. The big if is, as usual, Kyrie. ‘Kyrie, the Intellect,’ has decided to take a sabbatical from the NBA that includes Zoom calls during games and birthday parties, while Harden has his desires in strip clubs, leaving KD to be a leader, which he has not been most of his career. On top of that, all the scoring depth provided by players like Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen are gone, along with any future depth in the years to come with the absence of three first-round picks. Brooklyn is in win-now mode, but how are they going to win? In the regular season, it is easy to put up historic numbers, but playoff basketball slows down a lot due to the increase and defense, and the Nets have defensive liabilities everywhere at the moment. Kyrie cannot guard a tree, Harden only guards when he feels like it, and the Nets no longer have a strong interior presence with the absence of Jarrett Allen, who was traded to Cleveland as part of the 4-team Harden deal. Sure, DeAndre Jordan is on the team, but when ESPN displayed the potential starting lineup, they put in Jeff Green instead of DeAndre Jordan, showing how much of a threat he is to anyone in the paint nowadays. That leaves KD to play the 3, 4, and 5 positions on the court, which is not what you want a star player coming off an Achilles injury to be doing. Brooklyn has to acquire a big man ASAP, whether it is someone cheap off the free-agent market or lure someone out of retirement, but they need someone because DeAndre Jordan is not the answer to this problem.

Now let us acknowledge that Brooklyn has acquired 3 of the top 10 players in the league. Why would you be willing to have such a high payroll for a big three when the rage is all about dynamic duos? It turns out that the only way to beat LeBron now is to acquire a minimum of 3 Hall of Fame players on the same roster, as stated by Nick Wright on FOX Sport’s ‘First Things First’. Kevin Durant decided that Kyrie and a strong bench was not enough to handle a 36-year-old LeBron James? And people think he is better than LeBron? That’s all I will say about that, but what does this mean for the expectations for this team? It is as championship-or-bust as it can get.  

The last time a team traded this much for one player was when the Los Angeles Lakers for AD, and when the Clippers traded for ‘Pandemic P’. The only team to successfully utilize this star player was the Lakers, who won the title last year, and to no one’s surprise are the favorites this year.  

I believe that the Nets will be plagued with chemistry issues due to a power struggle over the ball and a lack of depth. Brooklyn has the individual pieces to win, but do these pieces fit together? I do not think so, and like the KG and Pierce trade the Nets made years ago, I fear the Nets just made another one today. Last LeBron note; this was trending on Twitter, but did anyone notice that LeBron made a Stephen Curry no-look three, and the next day a super-team was assembled? Ooooh, the Nets are in trouble.

Cleveland’s Perspective: Cleveland got some nice pieces, but really how many big men does one team need? You got Drummond at point guard turning layups into turnovers, Kevin Love wasting a great career playing power forward, Larry Nance Jr dunking all the time at the 3, and Javale playing center as a center does. So I guess you bring in Jarrett Allen to play the 2, turning him into a splash brother? I have no clue what the Cavs think they are doing, and this accumulation of big men gets them nowhere.

Indiana’s Perspective: Giving up Oladipo for LeVert does not improve the team, but it keeps that a contender level while getting rid of the cloud of issues regarding his desire to be there in the first place. LeVert is a solid 1/2 hybrid player who can distribute and score at a great clip. Pair him with Brogdon and Sabonis, and the Pacers remain the contenders they are. However, I do not believe they will advance farther than the second round and will be a 5-6 seed in the East. Giving up Oladipo also removes the Pacers’ obligations to pay Oladipo big money, as they can instead focus on building a contender team with cheaper pieces.

Houston’s Perspective: In all fairness, the Rockets won this trade. They netted four first-round picks, four pick swaps, Victor Oladipo, Dante Exum, bench depth, and a solid future. They don’t have to deal with distractions caused by James Harden or his ridiculous commands and can start a rebuild without developing a losing culture. With guys who will work hard like John Wall and Boogie Cousins, along with a less ball-dominant 2 in Victor Oladipo, the Rockets and Stephen Silas have a lot of pieces to work with to build something special. As John Wall and Boogie Cousins round into form and Silas integrating Oladipo into a game plan that allows Wall to be Wall and not have to defer to Harden all the time, the Rockets can play free-flowing basketball the way Silas wants to and continue to keep a winning culture while harvesting picks for the years to come.

Nikhil’s Analysis

Brooklyn’s Perspective: The move is quite obviously a win-now type of play from the Nets’ head office, but all indications just seem to be heading towards failure. Yes, this team will win games; a large sum of them as well. But the age-old question that seems to be the demise of most superteams not named the Warriors is called back into question: who takes the last shot? I have sat here and thought about this for a while now, and I still cannot come up with a genuine answer. The crux of the problem lies in the personality of each player, and the fact that they are all HUGE ball-dominant guards (Yes, Kevin Durant is not technically a guard, but his game most closely resembles that of one). James Harden is known to be a huge ball-hog and one that usually dribbles for more than 5 seconds before making some kind of slow-motion and hitting a step-back jumper. Kevin Durant is known to be a crossover killer and one whose size is so hard to guard in any situation. Kyrie Irving is known to be an insane dribble move user, who has the best passing attributes of the three but will not shy away from a shot of his own. Combine this with the fact that off the court, these three players are the three most egotistical in the NBA, and you have to think that somewhere, something will go wrong. 

Irving himself took an extended leave of absence that the Nets organization has no reason for, and Harden’s entire saga of blatant disregard for an organization will not bode well for a championship-caliber team. Each of these three guys will be the one without the ball in their hands during a potential game-winning sequence of play at some point in the season, and when it happens, we will truly see how this team will work, will thrive, or will ultimately fail. Steve Nash has a hell of a job to do, and in all honesty, I do not think he can do it.

Houston’s Perspective: The Houston Rockets, without Daryl Morey, managed to come away as the big winner of this trade in my opinion, as they manage to set themselves up for the future brilliantly, while still keeping a passable playoff-caliber roster right now. Just listen to the haul they got for Harden: 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). The sheer amount of picks is almost comparable to what OKC has been doing with their picks and ultimately sets them up for a good number of future players, a good proportion of which are bound to be gems. The biggest piece of the puzzle right now, however, is Victor Oladipo, who is more than a passable guard that has nearly all the skill needed to pilot the ship next to John Wall. That backcourt in all honesty is reminiscent of the notorious Wall-Beal backcourt that thrived so many years in Washington, the difference being that the rest of Houston’s roster can provide some help. Eric Gordon, Demarcus Cousins, Christian Wood, and PJ Tucker have experience being the follow-up option to a ball-dominant player in James Harden, so they would only thrive in a much more pass inclined system under Wall and Oladipo. Houston has a lot to look forward to, now and the future, even though on the surface it may look like a downgrade.

Cleveland’s Perspective: I cannot lie to you guys, I know almost nothing about the current Cavs roster, or how well they play. All I know is that they’re 7-7, and have WAY too many big men, especially given the league-wide tendency to go small nowadays. So, acquiring Jarrett Allen and Taurean Prince just does not seem like a roster friendly move to make. However, Andre Drummond has an expiring contract, which could indicate that he could be on the move shortly, or even more moves for Allen and Prince. All in all, however, whoever it is they keep will not make a huge difference record or skill-wise. They will, however, make a difference in the locker room. Having two guys who are widely regarded as very decent players and can contribute immediately will do wonders for this young squad.

Indiana’s Perspective: There was news a long while ago that Oladipo wanted out of Indiana, and that finally came true in exchange for a younger Caris LeVert, and a 2023 second-round pick. LeVert has lived up to his major upside and showed so last year when he began to pick up steam and started dropping big-time performances. But under the dictatorship of KD and Kyrie, his usefulness was bound to take a hit, and riding the bench is never what someone of his skill level and upside should do. So, this move makes sense for both parties, and in turn, gives Indiana a viable asset for the future. Will we see a major difference? No, the Pacers are still going to be a middle of the table playoff team, but a team that could be a dark horse in the East if things go their way.

Anish’s Analysis

Brooklyn’s Perspective: This was the biggest acquisition by the Nets who received former MVP, James Harden. The Nets appear to be a super team with one of the best scoring trios of all time in Kyrie, Harden, and Durant. However, this team still has its problems. Aside from wondering how chemistry and egos will stay intact with these superstars, even on the court, there can be issues for this stacked team. They traded a lot of their bench depth to acquire James Harden, previously the Nets had one of the best benches in the league with Dinwiddie (out for the season), LeVert (stellar play with Irving out), and Jarrett Allen (phenomenal rebounder and rim protector). After the trade, the Nets have no bench depth which plays a big role in coaching now. An advantage they do have is having three offensive superstars. In this case, there should always be at least one of these three superstars on the court to run the offense and the Nets should manage well. However, their lack of defense could also be a problem after losing Jarrett Allen, there are no great defenders on the Nets team (maybe aside from Kevin Durant too). In all, if the Nets do not win a championship with this trio, they completely threw away their future as they do not get another draft pick till 2028. The Nets going all reminds me of the similar situation with them giving up picks to the Celtics for washed stars, hopefully, this situation turns out different. 

Houston’s Perspective: I think Houston got a decent amount for James Harden. They did not get a future star or anything like Ben Simmons, but they got draft picks and a good player in Victor Oladipo. Oladipo was on a tear before he got injured and he has been trying to work his way back. However, in Indiana, he did not get as many opportunities as Sabonis and Brogdon began to take off. In Houston, this is perfect for Oladipo as he is in the backcourt with John Wall who came back from a bad injury and they can work together to succeed.

Cleveland’s Perspective: Cleveland seems to be the forgotten team in this chaotic trade. However, I think Cleveland won this trade. Cleveland did not have to give up any valuable players or too many draft picks and they acquired a young big in Jarrett Allen. You may be thinking, why would the Cavs need another big man they already have Drummond? Initially, I thought the same, but I believe they can easily trade Drummond for a final piece to build around the young core of Sexton, Garland, and Allen. This team could be scary in a couple of years if they play their cards right!

Indiana’s Perspective: I would not say Indiana won or lost this trade because right now, we cannot tell. LeVert and Oladipo seem to be on the same skill level with LeVert producing more with less opportunity. However, LeVert is out indefinitely with finding a mass in his kidney during the physical. The true winner of this trade is Caris LeVert because without this physical, who knew when he would find that he had a small mass in his kidney. I hope for a speedy recovery. If LeVert comes back to his usual self, Indiana won this trade mainly because Oladipo was about to become a free agent so they at least got a player equal to him in LeVert.

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