In a blockbuster trade, the Houston Rockets have agreed to send one-time NBA MVP and three-time reigning scoring champion James Harden to the Brooklyn Nets, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski first reported.
Houston will acquire Victor Oladipo, Dante Exum, Rodions Kurucs, four first-round picks and four first-round pick swaps in the four-team deal, which also includes the Indiana Pacers and Cleveland Cavaliers, per Wojnarowski and The Athletic’s Shams Charania. Jarrett Allen and Taurean Prince will be sent from Brooklyn to Cleveland. In return for Oladipo, the Pacers will receive Caris LeVert and a second-round pick.
The four draft picks and the pick swaps are all unprotected, according to Charania. One of the picks going to Houston reportedly includes the 2022 first-round pick Cleveland previously acquired from the Milwaukee Bucks. The Cavaliers are also sending a 2024 second-round pick to the Nets in the four-team trade.
The deal sends Harden to his preferred trade destination. In Brooklyn, he will be reunited with former Oklahoma City Thunder teammate Kevin Durant and join a backcourt that includes All-Star Kyrie Irving. The trio of All-NBA-caliber stars, including two former MVPs, make the Nets an Eastern Conference favorite.
Following a disappointing second-round playoff exit, Rockets co-stars Harden and Russell Westbrook requested trades just one season into a partnership both had pushed for. Houston granted Westbrook’s wish at the start of December, sending him to the Washington Wizards for John Wall and a first-round pick.
The addition of Wall and free-agent acquisition Christian Wood did nothing to dissuade Harden from wanting off a Rockets organization that has helped him transform into a superstar over the past eight seasons. He took a torch to the franchise in what was essentially a trade demand on Tuesday night.
“We’re just not good enough — obviously, chemistry, talent-wise, just everything — and it was clear these last few games,” Harden told reporters following a fifth straight subpar effort that has resulted in a 1-4 stretch. He finished his stunning media availability by saying, “I love this city. I’ve literally done everything that I can. I mean, this situation, it’s crazy. It’s something that I don’t think can be fixed, so, yeah, thanks.”
Both Wall and All-Star reclamation project DeMarcus Cousins publicly castigated their erstwhile teammate.
“When you have certain guys in the mix that don’t want to buy in all as one, it’s going to be hard to do anything special or anything good as a basketball team,” Wall told reporters following Harden’s interview.
Added Cousins on Wednesday prior to the trade becoming public: “The disrespect started way before any interview.”
Harden’s preseason was arguably more of a public relations nightmare. He arrived late to training camp in favor of partying with rapper Lil Baby in Atlanta and Las Vegas. His violations of NBA COVID-19 protocols further delayed his ability to rejoin the team. When he was finally cleared to play, he appeared out of shape.
ESPN.com’s Tim MacMahon published a scathing report detailing how Houston has catered to Harden’s every demand over the years, including allowances to spend additional nights out on road trips and travel between games to Vegas. That special treatment contributed to dysfunction throughout the organization and even the exits of coaches and teammates, including Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and Westbrook.
The lengths to which the Rockets went to build a title contender around Harden led to resistance against trading Harden, especially for lesser value. He has three years and $133 million remaining on the extension he signed in 2017, but ultimately Houston caved to another disgruntled superstar who demanded a trade.
Harden leaves Houston as one of the franchise’s greatest players, even if his runs to a pair of Western Conference finals ended short of a championship goal. He averaged 29.6 points, 7.7 assists and six rebounds per game over eight-plus seasons with the Rockets, including three scoring titles and an assist crown. But his exit, particularly the way in which it unfolded, leaves a dent in his legacy with the franchise.
Harden has been an offense unto himself, averaging double-digit 3-point and free-throw attempts the past three seasons. His ability to break down defenders with remarkable footwork, timing and handle helped the Rockets take small ball to its extreme and change the way offenses are built around the NBA. However, it remains to be seen whether Harden will be afforded the same omnipresent treatment with his new team.
Brooklyn now boasts an unprecedented superstar trio, believed to be the first to feature three players whose career-high usage rates exceed 100 percent. How first-year Nets coach Steve Nash balances the ball dominance of his three offensive dynamos will be a fascinating development. This is to say nothing of the locker-room dynamics for three players who have all left their previous teams in strained circumstances.
Currently, Irving is away from the Nets for unclear personal reasons with no timetable for a return and faces potential disciplinary measures if the league finds him in violation of COVID-19 health and safety protocols for allegedly attending a family birthday party. Harden and Durant have already been sidelined this season.
Still, Durant, Harden and Irving are three of the most talented scorers of their generation, and opponents will likely have just as difficult a time containing them as Nash does designing a system around them.
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