The Harden Trade Should Work Out — but Maybe Not for the Nets


Within the midst of a gap month marked by sport postponements, depleted rosters and ragged basketball, 4 groups intervened final week to ship a blockbuster James Harden commerce.

It was a rousing (and welcome) diversion because the N.B.A. strained to play by way of a pandemic, however a couple of days of reflection hasn’t modified my preliminary response. Even with so many choices, clear winners on this deal don’t bounce off the scorecard.

The daunting fact for the Nets and the Houston Rockets, who drove this whopper transaction, is that the Cleveland Cavaliers — for now — look finest positioned of any crew within the quartet to return away happy after the Cavaliers paid a modest value to accumulate the Nets’ extremely rated heart Jarrett Allen.

The Indiana Pacers ought to be a part of them in celebrating the deal, supplied that Caris LeVert can return safely from the scary disclosure that he’s out indefinitely after a small mass was found on his left kidney. The Pacers entered the commerce because the fourth crew by transport a probably costly free-agent-to-be, Victor Oladipo, to Houston so they may purchase the promising former Nets ahead LeVert and his team-friendly contract. Kevin Pritchard, Indiana’s president of basketball operations, mentioned the Pacers are “tremendous assured” about LeVert’s restoration.

Indiana and Cleveland, regardless of their lesser roles as commerce facilitators, acquired a lot of the early kudos for the deal. The Nets and Rockets may not care about that, however reservations for the headliners persist as a result of:

  • The Nets needed to give up management of their first-round decide of their subsequent seven drafts (yes, seven) to accumulate Harden and accomplice him with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

  • The Rockets collected all that draft capital in return however didn’t come away with the younger franchise participant that that they had indicated for weeks they have been holding out for in any Harden swap.

  • The Nets solely have their new star trio underneath contract for the remainder of this season and subsequent season, whereas dealing with many questions on their sudden defensive shortcomings and the way they plan to maintain three quantity scorers content material now that Irving has rejoined the crew after an prolonged absence. Irving participated in a full observe Tuesday after lacking seven video games for what started as “only a pause” that he mentioned he wanted due to “household and private stuff.” But pretty much as good as Durant and Harden regarded collectively Monday evening in crunchtime of a house win over Milwaukee, mixing in a 3rd star who needs and desires the ball modifications the dynamic dramatically.

  • The Rockets have unexpectedly embraced a rebuilding technique extra related to a front-office alumnus not named Daryl Morey. Stockpiling future first-round draft picks, keep in mind, is Sam Hinkie’s trademark. After all, for the technique to achieve success, Houston should flip these picks into no less than one cornerstone participant extra gifted than Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons. Houston selected the Nets’ commerce provide and a trial run with Oladipo, who continues to be recovering from his personal harm woes, over the 76ers’ Simmons-centric pitches. It’s a name that has some across the league questioning if the Tilman Fertitta-owned Rockets, at closing time, handled the Nets as a result of they may not convey themselves to ship Harden to Morey’s new crew.

It needs to be famous that there’s some scattered reward on the market for the Nets and the Rockets that has been drowned out by the conspiracy theories and information media skepticism. One Western Convention govt, for instance, chided me for focusing an excessive amount of on Harden’s varied acts of sabotage that fast-tracked his Houston exit and too readily dismissing what his distinct offensive expertise can do for the Nets.

Harden acquired what he wished in the long run after among the worst trade-forcing conduct ever seen. He confirmed up late to coaching camp, flouted the league’s well being and security protocols on digital camera, let his degree of play and conditioning decline and, lastly, cemented his newfound villainy by publicly criticizing the collective high quality of his now-former Rockets teammates. The manager nonetheless described Harden, if just for the second whereas he’s taking such warmth, because the league’s most underrated participant.

One other govt within the West requested me why I used to be so fast to scoff at Houston’s return for Harden when the Nets are being brazenly questioned for presumably buying and selling away an excessive amount of to get him. Together with the 2022 first-round decide it acquired from Cleveland (through Milwaukee), which the Cavaliers shrewdly tossed into the commerce to nab Allen, Houston will obtain the Nets’ unprotected first-round picks in 2022, 2024 and 2026, in addition to the correct to swap first-round picks with the Nets within the 2021, 2023, 2025 and 2027 drafts.

Maybe one or each of these executives can be confirmed proper. If the Nets win a championship this season or subsequent, or if Houston can assemble an enviable new core with its replenished trove of property, no scarcity of scribes like me will face told-you-so recriminations.

You simply wouldn’t dare on the outset to, particularly within the Nets’ case, throw a whole lot of assist behind the risk-taking.

The Los Angeles Clippers surrendered a fistful of draft property to Oklahoma Metropolis in July 2019 as a result of they knew buying and selling for Paul George would additionally clinch the free-agent signature of Kawhi Leonard. The Los Angeles Lakers made an analogous transfer earlier that very same month to accumulate Anthony Davis from New Orleans and flank LeBron James with probably the most gifted teammate of his profession. These have been N.B.A. no-brainers.

Milwaukee’s gambit in November to half with three future first-round picks and the rights to swap first-rounders in two different drafts to pry Jrue Vacation away from the Pelicans is in a tier of its personal. The Bucks endured a nervy wait that lasted nearly a month after the Vacation commerce till Giannis Antetokounmpo agreed to a five-year, $228 million contract extension. Persuading Antetokounmpo to remain, on some ranges, equated to a championship in itself for the small-market Bucks, however they’ll certainly want a significant contribution from Vacation to shed their label of playoff underachievers and hold Antetokounmpo content material.

Then the Nets’ commerce realistically falls right into a tier under that, since Milwaukee’s transfer was fueled by the comprehensible desperation to please after which re-sign Antetokounmpo.

As swiftly as Durant’s 30.6 points-per-game brilliance has made so many neglect that he’s solely within the nascent phases of a comeback from probably the most dreaded harm within the sport — nobody within the N.B.A., frankly, has ever regarded higher than Durant after an Achilles’ tendon tear — so many unknowns nag on the Nets.

Who on this trio will embrace third-wheel standing like Chris Bosh so crucially did in Miami beside James and Dwyane Wade, or like Ray Allen did in Boston alongside Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce? Who amongst Durant, Harden and Irving has the persona to prepared the ground to a pecking order? How can the Nets play satisfactory playoff protection in opposition to offensive monsters like Antetokounmpo and Davis when Durant, Harden and Irving share the ground? How a lot can the Nets even rely on Irving after his messy exits in Cleveland and Boston and this season’s bumpy begin?

Don’t neglect that the Nets are asking a rookie coach, Steve Nash, to steer this group to the solutions to these questions — with no coaching camp on prime of Nash’s lack of expertise. Don’t neglect, moreover, that it took the James/Wade/Bosh Warmth greater than a season to determine a whole lot of this out.

Profitable a championship isn’t the Nets’ solely motivation right here. If the Harden commerce persuades Durant to signal a second contract with them, and if Harden sticks round, these could be important triumphs.

The Nets, although, is not going to be graded on the ancillary advantages, or merely their success in guaranteeing that Harden didn’t land with the division-rival Sixers. They went all in believing {that a} change of surroundings for the sad Harden will result in a title in 12 months 1 — prefer it did for Leonard in Toronto and for Davis with the Lakers.

As a lot as we relished an precise basketball debate, briefly hauling us away from the N.B.A.’s mounting coronavirus considerations, there are just too many holes in that script to purchase into it enjoying out three seasons in a row.

You ask; I reply. Each week on this area, I’ll area three questions posed through e mail at marcstein-newsletter@nytimes.com. (Please embody your first and final identify, in addition to town you’re writing in from, and ensure “Nook Three” is within the topic line.)

Q: Simply wished to say that, whereas two-game collection aren’t main on the baseball schedule, they do occur on a regular basis, even in nonpandemic years. The Yankees, for instance, performed 5 scheduled two-game collection within the first half of the 2019 season. So “baseball collection” does work as a reputation for the two-game units within the N.B.A. this season. Keep it up. — Joe Sheehan (joesheehan.com)

Stein: Recognize the angle, Joe. I answered a query in Corner Three last week that recommended two-game units by no means occur in baseball with out correctly difficult it.

That in all probability stems, no less than in my fading reminiscence, from them seeming a lot rarer within the Seventies and Eighties after I adopted baseball extra intently. I ought to have vetted the query with my ace New York Instances baseball colleagues Tyler Kepner and James Wagner.

As for sticking with the time period “baseball collection” for the N.B.A.’s two-game units that includes the identical two groups enjoying consecutive video games on the identical enviornment, you would possibly get your want. Higher alternate options have but to materialize.

In final week’s publication, I requested for reader ideas, which has proved to be a helpful tactic prior to now after I’ve gotten caught on one thing. I remorse to report that I’ve but to obtain what I might classify as an inspiring nomination.

Q: As an alternative of “baseball-style collection,” how about “doubles” as the brand new time period? I do know it belongs to tennis, nevertheless it works: “The Lakers are enjoying a double in opposition to the Rockets in Houston. The second sport is tonight.” — George Fuller

Stein: You made a satisfactory case, George, in comparison with the opposite submissions acquired. However I can’t co-sign this.

Not solely am I an enormous tennis fan, as I’ve talked about usually earlier than, however I’m one of many world’s largest doubles followers. I’ve campaigned for doubles to get extra protection from the tennis press since I used to be a teen.

So I can’t convey myself to attempt to remodel one of many pillar ideas of one among my three favourite sports activities into area of interest basketball lingo.

Q: Why did Kyrie Irving lose 1/81.6 of his wage for 2 video games if there are 72 video games this season? — @Alvaro32LA from Twitter

Stein: The league workplace, after current negotiations with the gamers’ union, adjusted the per-game penalty for gamers who miss a sport due to a violation of the N.B.A.’s well being and security protocols. I’m advised that the penalty went from 1/72 of the participant’s wage to 1/81.6 of the wage for every sport missed; Irving missed two video games throughout the five-day quarantine he acquired from the N.B.A. after he was caught on video maskless at a household birthday celebration.

The league and union calculated the 81.6 determine by including 4 postseason video games and a league common of 5.6 playoff video games to the 72-game whole. For the primary three video games that Irving missed, which the Nets attributed to “private causes,” Nets officers had the choice to nice Irving on the increased fee of 1/72 of his $33,329,100 million wage for every sport missed, which might have totaled greater than $460,000 per sport.


James Harden’s first sport in Houston as a member of the Nets is barely 42 days away on March 3. The sport is predicted to have 4,500 followers in attendance, too, with the Rockets on the quick listing of 5 N.B.A. groups permitting lowered crowds for dwelling video games.

Seven gamers have posted a triple-double of their first sport with a brand new crew, in keeping with Stathead. Two of the seven — Harden and Washington’s Russell Westbrook — did so this season. Harden had 32 factors, 12 rebounds and 14 assists (and 9 turnovers) in his Nets debut on Saturday in a victory over Orlando; Westbrook had 21 factors, 11 rebounds and 15 assists in his Wizards debut on Dec. 23 in a loss to Philadelphia.

Harden goes forward with plans to function a steakhouse in midtown Houston. 13, named for Harden’s jersey quantity, is scheduled to open by month’s finish, in keeping with Sherrie Handrinos, a spokeswoman for the restaurant. Kevin Durant owned a 25 % stake in a restaurant in Oklahoma Metropolis, Kd’s Southern Delicacies, which filed an utility to alter its identify to the Legacy Grill simply days after Durant’s choice in July 2016 to go away the Thunder for the Golden State Warriors in free company.

The Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James awoke Tuesday ranked 56th within the league at 32.2 minutes per sport. It’s on tempo to be the bottom common of his 18-season profession by design, with James now 36 years old and coming off the shortest low season in N.B.A. historical past. Solely 72 days elapsed between the Lakers’ Recreation 6 finals victory over Miami to clinch the 2019-20 championship and their opening evening loss to the Clippers on Dec. 22.

Solely 4 gamers are averaging no less than 37 minutes per sport, and the Tom Thibodeau-coached Knicks have two of them. Indiana’s Domantas Sabonis leads the league at 37.5 minutes per sport, adopted by the Knicks’ duo RJ Barrett and Julius Randle and the Nets’ Harden, all of whom are tied at 37.1 minutes per sport.


Hit me up anytime on Twitter (@TheSteinLine) or Fb (@MarcSteinNBA) or Instagram (@thesteinline). Ship another suggestions to marcstein-newsletter@nytimes.com.





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