The deal is done. James Harden and all of the baggage—both skill and weight-related—has been shipped out of Houston. The Beard will be serving buckets for the Brooklyn Nets alongside his former Oklahoma City Thunder teammate Kevin Durant and, presumably, his former USA backcourt mate Kyrie Irving.
To fully understand the magnitude of this deal, it's necessary to assess the winners and losers of the trade because there were so many parties involved. Cleveland got another big man for God knows what reason, Indiana swapped an aging, injured veteran in Oladipo for a younger replacement in Caris LeVert, and then there's the Houston side of this whole thing. So, without further ado, the winners of the biggest trade of the year...
Winner: The New-Look Houston Rockets
James Harden's transition from Houston to Brooklyn couldn't have gone worse. He made a lot of friends during his time in H-Town during the last nine seasons (R.I.P. to all their thriving strip clubs), but he may have made more enemies on the way out. DeMarcus Cousins and John Wall were instantly fed up with having to play alongside Harden's laziness and general incompetence this season. Neither of these guys have played consistent competitive basketball in what feels like years—because it has been years—but when they're fully back and available for their team, they're thrusted alongside an overweight ball-dominator. I'm as big of a Harden protector as anybody out there, but he simply wasn't playing well or hard enough to push Houston into a contending spot. Look no further than his free throw attempts, which have gone down from 11.8 last season to only 7.5 through the first eight games.
The new-look Rockets could win anywhere between 20-40 games throughout the year, and their future would remain intact regardless of how their final record looks. If they miss the playoffs, then they'll be in the draft lottery and will have a shot at a franchise-transcending player like Cade Cunningham, Evan Mobley, Jalen Green or Jonathan Kuminga. If Houston's past-their-prime players outperform expectations, then they actually have a decent enough roster to make a dent in the playoffs.
This is burying the lead here, but Houston received eight first round draft picks. They sacrificed the majority of their picks in the horrendous Westbrook-CP3 deal, so they got the compensation necessary to ensure a shot at high quality players on cheap contracts. I've become less and less of a draft picks guy over the last couple of years, because the 2021-2024 picks from Brooklyn will likely be in the mid-to-late 20s, but there's no telling where those picks could end up from 2025-27. Houston's immediate future isn't jaw dropping, but their distant one is overwhelmingly improved.
Winners and Losers: Strippers
I'll let the Reddit user speak for himself. Simply brilliant analysis on the behalf of an avid NBA consumer. We could all learn a thing or two from him. Watch the basketball, do the work, and then spew your conspiracy theory or bullshit opinion after you've done so. I'm looking at you, 95% of "NBA Twitter" AKA, "'Fill-in-the-NBA-Superstar-Name' Biased Protector."
Winner: New York's Title as the Basketball Capital of the World
I've been a diligent basketball digester since 2008, when I was 10 years old. I played countless hours of NBA 2K and would typically defeat my opponents (friends) in a disturbing (blowout) fashion with ball-dominant players like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Tyreke Evans. Even in NBA 2K9, I couldn't find a way to get LeBron, Kobe and Tyreke all on the same team without forfeiting to the despicable trade override rule. That was one of the first things that came to my mind when this deal went down. It felt like the "Trade Override" rule was turned on.
Regardless of how you feel about them as people; Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden are not only three of the most skilled, purely talented and dynamic players in the NBA today. No, they are three of—I would argue—the most skilled players of all-time. If I had to put a number on it, I'd likely have each of them in Top 10. This isn't to say that Kyrie Irving or James Harden are two of the top ten players of all-time, but when it comes to pure skill and the inherent ability to take-and-make a shot in an isolation situation, these are three of the best I've ever seen.
We know who Kevin Durant is. He's a 7-foot machine who was put on this Earth to give opposing coaches bucket-induced nightmares. Kyrie Irving has made headlines in recent days for his enigmatic absence, but when he inevitably touches the floor again—I pray—he'll look as if he hasn't lost a single step. We've seen how deadly these two all-world talents can be together, and now let's add one more player into the mix just for shits and giggles.
James Harden hasn't had to sacrifice touches since 2012. He's had a usage percentage of 31% or higher every year since 2014 and hasn't taken less than 16 shots per game since he was a Sixth Man of the Year award-winner. James Harden is no longer a sixth man; he is an MVP. These three aren't going to mesh immediately; it'll take a lot of time. But if there's anybody that can figure out how to satisfy three ball-dominant players, it's this Brooklyn staff which features Harden's former head coach, Mike D'Antoni, as the lead assistant.
Durant knows how to sacrifice—he did it in Golden State and demonstrated that he's just as deadly off-the-ball making backdoor cuts and coming off of flare screens as he is with the rock in his hands. The question will be how Harden will behave off-the-ball when Kyrie is bringing it up the floor. He has the body and strength to set mean off-ball screens. That much is clear. But does he have the stamina and determination to run around double-screens and pull up in catch-and-shoot situations, rather than going back to what he's comfortable with and dribbling a minimum of eight times before shooting his patented step-back? I can't wait to find out.
Winner: LeBron James
Once LeBron James starts hitting the trademark Stephen Curry shot, it's time for the league to do some mixing up. Coming off of his fourth NBA Title, LeBron is looking miles better than anybody else in the league not named Kevin Durant. And what's more important to LeBron is that the Lakers have the best record in the NBA at 10-3, and 7-0 on the road. In an era where offense is everything, LeBron's Lakers are obliterating opponents thanks to their defensive efforts—boasting a league best 105.1 defensive rating.
What more is there to say? Everybody with a legitimate brain and a love for basketball understands that it takes an opponent's best shot and a historic roster to beat LeBron James in a seven-game series. He hasn't lost a playoff series to an organization not named San Antonio or Golden State since 2011, and Brooklyn is itching to get themselves in that mix. Best of luck, Brooklyn. Just let me know who's guarding LeBron and who's guarding Anthony Davis when the Finals roll around if y'all can make it past Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Boston, Miami and/or Indiana.
Winner: Indiana Pacers Fans
Things simply felt awkward in Indiana—despite their hot start. It was like Victor Oladipo had come back to his hometown sweetheart and she was cheating on him with two dudes at once. One of them was this sweet, well-read young man from Virginia, and the other was an Ivan Drago impersonator. Now, Oladpio can go forge a relationship elsewhere, and LeVert will be thrown into the mix of a young core that already has a solid, winning foundation.
Losers: Cleveland Cavaliers
Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?
Are you exhausted by all of those "Why's" listed above? Well, imagine how Cleveland fans must feel. For every "Why?" above, there is a center on the Cavaliers roster.