James Harden is a Brooklyn Net: The Breakdown
Wow! Talk about a blockbuster trade. There is a lot to break down on this one so I am going to go team by team and take a look at the positives and negatives for each if there are any. With that being said, let's get into it: To Cleveland Cavaliers:
Jarrett Allen- 22 years old, Center, $3.91 million cap hit in the final year of his current deal.
Taurean Prince- 26 years old, Forward, $12.25 million cap hit this season and $13 million cap hit in the final year of his deal next season. The Cleveland Cavaliers quietly made out like bandits in this four-team mega deal as they managed to get their hands on two nice pieces to help continue their rebuild. LeBron James left them high and dry a few years ago to seek greener pastures in the bright lights of LA and they have been reeling ever since. To the surprise of many, Cleveland has managed to show some signs of life to begin the 2021 NBA season as they currently sit at a record of 5-7. Play from players such as Darius Garland, Larry Nance Jr., and Andre Drummond has sparked a bit of intrigue in Cleveland and perhaps it persuaded their GM (Koby Altman) to press the gas a bit on the rebuild.
There is no denying there is a log jam of big men in Cleveland as they still have the aforementioned Nance and Drummond, as well as multi-time all-star, Kevin Love. Altman may have seen an opportunity to get younger in the frontcourt and decided to snag a steal while he had the chance. With Allen coming in, I think it would be safe to assume a big name big man will be making his way out of Cleveland. Allen bolsters an 11.2 point, 10.4 rebound and 1.7 assist stat-line with an added 1.6 blocks per game, all within just shy of 27 minutes per game.
I hate to point fingers, but Cedi Osman has been awful and there is no doubt in my mind that the Cavs were desperately in search of a forward that could push him to the bench. They may have found their guy in Taurean Prince. Prince is averaging 8.1 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 0.6 assists. And while these numbers may not jump off the page, it is important to note he has managed these numbers in just over 18 minutes per game. Prince would not be asked to be "the guy" by any means, but in a starting role he could put up admirable third or fourth scoring option numbers. The Cavaliers may have found two potential starters for their roster all at the mere price of a first-round pick in 2022 and Dante Exum. The real kicker is that the first wasn't even theirs, to begin with. The pick was the Milwaukee Bucks, who are poised to be perennial contenders in the Eastern Conference. The Cavaliers absolutely crushed it on this deal.
To Indiana Pacers
Caris Levert- 26 years old, Shooting Guard/Small Forward, $16.2 million cap hit this season, $17.5 million cap hit next season, and $18.8 million cap hit in the final year of his deal. Houston Rockets 2023 second-round pick
I do not mean to diminish players who have been selected in the second round as there have been many that have found success, but in this particular trade, this is merely window dressing. The real holy grail for the Indiana Pacers comes from the Brooklyn Nets in Caris Levert. Levert has shown multiple flashes of brilliance in the league; some as recently as this season. Playing just under 28 minutes per game thus far, Levert has accumulated 18.5 points, 4.3 rebounds and 6 assists per game. The fact that he is also maintaining his career average of 1.1 steals per game highlights just how incredible he can be on both sides of the floor. Victor Oladipo's time with the Pacers had run its course and it was clear the franchise needed a similar player in the franchise with perhaps a little more of a team-oriented mindset. Levert fits that bill and then some, as he has been an anchor on the Nets for quite some time now, doing whatever was asked of him. The Pacers got a similar player to Oladipo at a cheaper and longer contract. The Pacers are getting great production from Malcolm Brogdon and Domantas Sabonis and I have zero doubt that Levert will fit in seamlessly with this squad. Make that two teams that have absolutely crushed it in this deal.
To Houston Rockets
Victor Oladipo- 28 years old, Guard, $21 million cap hit in the final year of his deal.
Rodions Kurucs- 22 years old, Forward, $1.78 million cap hit this season with a team option for next season that would see Rodions making $1.86 million against the cap. Dante Exum- 25 years old, Guard, $9.1 million cap hit in the final year of his deal. Brooklyn Nets 2022 first-round pick, Milwaukee Bucks 2022 first-round pick, Brooklyn Nets 2024 first-round pick, Brooklyn Nets 2026 first-round pick
Pick Swaps: Brooklyn Nets 2021 first-round, Brooklyn Nets 2023 first-round, Brooklyn Nets 2025 first-round, Brooklyn Nets 2027 firs -round
The draft picks are easily the most intriguing and confusing part of the acquisition so we will begin with them. At the time of writing this piece, I am reading multiple reports that all of the draft picks involved in the trade are unprotected. This is an integral note to the trade as that means Houston now has full control of every first-round pick the Brooklyn Nets own for seven years straight. To put it simply, Houston owns Brooklyn's first-round picks in 2022, 2024, 2026, as well as Milwaukee's in 2022 outright. The Rockets can choose to switch their first-round picks with Brooklyn's in 2021, 2023, 2025, and 2027 if for whatever reason the Nets finish higher in the draft order than the Rockets do in any of those seasons. Heist in draft compensation the likes of which we have never seen aside, the Rockets did not stop there. The first player added, while non-consequential to the Rockets, was yet another sly move for Cleveland as the Cavaliers were able to offload $9 million in essentially wasted cap in Dante Exum. Dante is a very deep depth player that likely won't have much of a career in Houston as he is an unrestricted free agent this offseason. Bravo, Cleveland.
Now to get into the real meat and potatoes with respect to already drafted players that the Rockets acquired. Rodions Kurucs was not getting a sniff of floor time for the Brooklyn Nets this season, which I personally found somewhat surprising. The season prior, Kurucs in a limited role was able to shoot 45% from the field and 37% from the three-point line. He may not be the flashiest player, but he also has been entirely too limited in Brooklyn. At a mere 22 years old, I believe there is plenty the Rockets can do to develop Kurucs into an average if not decent role player for their club. Finally, we get into what was likely a major draw for Houston in Victor Oladipo. The former two-time all-star was frustrated with his team and looking for a fresh start on a new team. To his credit, he gritted his teeth and was still able to average 20 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game without much in the way of complaints. Without a doubt, there is some concern with Oladipo given his injury history, but if you know the Rockets, you know they don't mind too much (See: John Wall and Demarcus Cousins). All things considered, this was good for both the Rockets and Oladipo. The Rockets offloaded a disgruntled superstar and landed a king's ransom in draft compensation, a potential solid role player and a new all-star to the roster. It is never great to lose an all-time talent, but kudos to Houston for making the best of an awful situation.
To Brooklyn Nets
James Harden- 31 years old, Guard, $41.25 million cap hit this season, $44.3 million cap hit the following season, and $47.37 million to round out the final year of his deal.
Cleveland Cavaliers 2024 second-round pick
Wow, they did it! They actually did it! The Nets landed the Cavs second-round pick in 2024! Jokes aside, the Nets knew what they were paying for when they offered up their entire future for the foreseeable future. James Harden is an MVP, sixth man of the year, 8-time all-star and 3-time scoring champ. Some may scoff at his poor play this season as his averages have dipped to 24.8 points per game, 5.1 rebounds and 10.4 assists (which is actually incredibly high for him), but make no mistake, he simply was playing uninspired basketball. Harden's disdain for the situation he found himself in, grew by the day and with it, his play suffered. Harden will look to make what could potentially be one of the best trios the NBA has ever seen in Brooklyn with co-stars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. But at what cost?
The Brooklyn Nets are officially in cap hell and will assuredly be deep into the luxury tax for a long time, assuming these three stay together. Top this with the fact that the Nets mortgaged every piece of future they had including what was once an incredibly stout bench and one starts to wonder if this was actually as good of a decision as it appeared on paper. Kevin Durant can play off-ball well but is at his best when he dominates touches in a basketball game. Kyrie Irving while an incredible playmaker can really shake defenses up when he is able to lull defenders to sleep off the dribble. Harden, of course, is one of, if not the most ball-dominant player in the league. To his credit, his ball dominance has led to historic levels of scoring, but it has often been knocked as not being good for a winning formula. Knowing this about these star players it becomes hard to decipher how these players will gel with one another. Questions about who will carry the ball up, who gets the most shots and who takes the ever-coveted last shot are sure to swirl in Brooklyn. Tack on that there will be question marks about secondary scoring and defense all season and you may have a formula for disaster. The deal is done and the dust is settling, but did the Nets actually get any better? Will the price haunt them for years to come? Will they become the next great NBA dynasty? Only time will tell.
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