5 takeaways from the James Harden deal: Nets need more to beat Lakers

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Chase Hughes
·6 min read
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Even with Harden, Nets need more if they want to win title originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

Even in an era where star movement is the norm in the NBA, Wednesday afternoon's four-team deal that sent James Harden to the Brooklyn Nets was shocking to see unfold in real-time on Twitter. Not only did the Nets give up an extraordinary haul for Harden, but Victor Oladipo somehow landed in Houston when zero rumors preceded the deal.

The aftermath looks like this, per Shams Charania of the Athletic:

Rockets: Victor Oladipo, Dante Exum, Rodions Kurucs, three Nets first-round picks (2022, '24, '26), one Bucks first ('22, unprotected), four Nets unprotected first-round pick swaps ('21, '23, '25, '27) 

Nets: James Harden, 2022 second-round pick (from Cavaliers)

Pacers: Caris LeVert, second-round pick (from Rockets)

Cavs: Jarrett Allen, Taurean Prince

Got all that? At first glance, this looks like one of the biggest and most consequential trades in NBA history. The landscape of the league has likely changed and we usually only see that happen in the offseason.

Exactly how consequential this deal was will be determined over time, most likely by whether the Nets win a championship. But here are some initial takeaways from the trade:

So much for no super teams

When the Warriors dismantled due to injuries and the departure of Kevin Durant, many rightfully pointed out that the league had changed from having a three-star, super team requirement to win a title to more balance, where the best teams had two stars and were separated by their depth and secondary pieces.

Well, that is true no more as whether the Nets win it all or not, they are a super team on paper. They now have two former MVPs in Durant and Harden, plus a third star in Kyrie Irving. Those are three Hall of Famers in their prime. Whether they win a title or not, the league has a more defined top tier than it did just a few hours ago. And this could create an arms race that sees more super teams built.

Nets need more to win a title

The Nets are going to be able to score a million points with three guys who are on the short-list of the most talented offensive players of their generation. Durant and Harden are arguably top-five scorers of all-time and Irving is no slouch himself. But in their current state, they look destined to be one of the league's worst defenses, especially now that they traded away Jarrett Allen, one of the game's most underrated rim protectors. They are 12th in defensive rating, but won't be for long when they swap Allen out for Harden. The Wizards' claim of the most extreme offense/defense imbalance in the league is officially in jeopardy.

Harden and Irving can't play defense. Durant has been able to in the past, but he can't cover up the shortcomings of four other players on the floor. And to win a title, you need to defend. The only team to win an NBA championship in the last 10 years without a top-10 defense was the 2017-18 Warriors, who ranked 11th in defensive efficiency. But they had even more high-end talent than Brooklyn does and they were the top-ranked defense in the postseason that year. Brooklyn has to add some defense by the deadline if they want to beat LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Lakers. They may need to do so just to get out of the East.

Can everyone co-exist?

There is no question the Nets are stacked with talent and will be fun to watch, but any time stars of this caliber join forces, there is the potential for things to get toxic. There is only one basketball and some sizable egos for Steve Nash to manage. In Harden and Irving, Brooklyn may have the two most mercurial stars in the league, both of which have been making headlines recently for bizarre reasons.

Durant has never seemed to be a locker room problem, but Harden just had one of the more epic downfalls in sports history on his way out of Houston and no one seems to know what Irving is up to right now. Also, remember the Cavaliers split apart because Irving couldn't stand being in the shadow of James. Now he's a distant third-best player on his team. Will he be okay with that?

Rockets' future is bright, but their ceiling isn't high

The Rockets are officially in the category of teams I like to refer to as "If only they were in the East." With Harden, they had the tools for a deep playoff run, at least in theory since he had taken them there before. But without him, they have John Wall, Oladipo, Christian Wood, and depth, but that won't get it done in what remains the far superior Western Conference.

Though the Rockets are 3-6, they may compete for a playoff spot, but they will have no chance against the top dogs; the Lakers, Nuggets, and Clippers. And realistically, they're probably behind the Jazz, Mavs, and Blazers. It's too early to tell on the Suns, but expect the Rockets to finish somewhere in the back of the playoff pack with the Kings, Thunder and Spurs. If they were in the East, it could be a very different story, but this trade helps the Rockets much more so in the long-term with draft picks and cap space than it does this season.

Cavs are looking more serious about winning

Cleveland has been firmly in the lottery ever since James left in the summer of 2018 following their loss in the NBA Finals. It has only been two years of collecting high draft picks, but that process may be over soon as they traded a first-round pick (from the Bucks) to get Allen and Taurean Prince.

That's a win-now move that should help the Cavs compete for a playoff spot this season. They are currently 10th in the East at 5-7. To put a local spin on it, they may have made it tougher for a team like the Wizards to compete for a postseason berth. What the Cavs really need, however, is offense. They are scoring only 98.9 points per game. No team has averaged fewer than 100 per game since the 2017-18 season. Cleveland does, however, also allow the fewest points of any team. They are the exact opposite of the Wizards, and now the Nets for that matter.

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