Two injury prone players, a so-so player, and a boatload of future draft picks is what the Houston Rockets got in return for trading away James Harden. 2018 NBA Most Valuable Player Award winner Harden’s antics didn’t help prop up his value even more than its lofty standard but for a transcendent offensive player like The Beard, there was still a lot left in the value tank to warrant a better return in the trade.
However, Houston ended up with pieces that don’t move the team’s needle to a return to Western Conference title contention status. In the blockbuster trade, Harden got sent to Brooklyn Nets with Houston getting Victor Oladipo from Indiana Pacers, Rodion Kurucs from Brooklyn Nets, Dante Exum from Cleveland Cavaliers four future first round draft picks and the final say in four first round draft swaps in future NBA drafts.
What happened to trading Harden to Miami Heat for Duncan Robinson, Tyler Herro and Goran Dragic? What happened to trading Harden to Philadelphia Sixers for Ben Simmons/Joel Embiid plus Matthias Thybulle and another fringe player? Or moving Harden to Denver Nuggets for Gary Harris, Michael Porter Jnr. and Will Barton? None of these moves panned out and it is tempting to dream of what could have been if Daryl Morey was Team Manager instead of new guy Rafael Stone.
At this point, what was viewed as an outlandish trade to even consider now looks even better knowing Houston could have traded Harden to Indiana for Brogdon, TJ Warren and Myles Turner.
For Indiana, the Pacers got Caris Levert from Brooklyn and a future second round draft pick while Cleveland Cavaliers, the last of four teams involved in the deal got Jarrett Allen and Taurean Prince from Brooklyn Nets. Levert is a gifted scorer who is a long term and better fit with Pacers Guard Malcolm Brogdon and gives the team more scorers to make up for not having an elite talent like the Hardens of the NBA world.
Should TJ Warren return to the starting unit healthy and to his Bubble form, non shooting Power Forward Domantas Sabonis would have scorers with strong three point shooting marks in the backcourt and on the wings plus a rim protector in Turner with a credible mark shooting from deep in a balanced attack.
For Cleveland Cavaliers, LeBron James first NBA team, nabbing Allen and Prince in the trade is a steal since both are young and fit the team’s timeline building around fellow youngsters Darius Garland and Collin Sexton. Allen is a top shot blocking, athletic Center who rebounds well and is a skinny, taller version of Andre Drummond without the enormous $28 million salary. Drummond is in the final year of his lucrative contract and with Allen in town, Cleveland could trade Drummond to a contending team for more draft picks as they continue their climb back to relevance.
Barring an uptick in production, Prince won’t stay long in Cleveland but in the mean time, he stands to play a key role off the bench as a Small Forward in the absence of promising second year player Kevin Porter Jnr. who hasn’t played this season due to personal issues. The future of Cleveland has Garland and Sexton manning the backcourt with Allen at Center; the Small Forward and Power Forward positions require General Manager Koby Altman to earn his money by filling those spots with upgrades on Larry Nance Jnr. and Cedi Osman.
Oladipo is working his way back to his All Star level from three seasons ago and Exum’s extensive injury woes have prevented him from developing into the star player he promised at the 2013 Under 19 Basketball World Cup. Oladipo’s uneven shooting production makes him a less than ideal partner for John Wall who suddenly finds himself in position to be the team’s franchise player. That aside, having two players at the Guard positions who just recovered from serious injuries is not a comfortable and Oladipo is likely to leave for free once this season ends since he becomes an unrestricted free agent then.
With Houston definitely not winning the title anytime soon, he might sign a Montrezl Harrell type deal with the Lakers and maximize his chances of winning an NBA title alongside LeBron and Anthony Davis. High future draft picks are fun when there is a Zion Williamson or LeBron type of player on the horizon but with none of that type of talent available yet at least mainstream, those picks aren’t worth much to get Houston its former status as a Dark Horse title contender. Look at Minnesota Timberwolves who traded Kevin Garnett for a boatload of draft picks but have spent close to two decades at the league’s cellar.
Working with proven commodity trumps working with a prospect and for an overly productive commodity like James Harden, the Houston Rockets should have done a better job getting better proven commodity in return. While the team has enough talent to remain competitive, its ceiling isn’t even higher than the Phoenix Suns who might not make the playoffs again despite acquiring All Star Guard Chris Paul. Fans could be looking at the Texas version of Sacramento Kings, good team but not good enough to make the playoffs or win a playoff game.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah
@YawMintYM on Twitter