The Houston Rockets finally granted James Harden’s trade demand Wednesday, reportedly moving the disgruntled guard in a blockbuster four-team deal involving the Cleveland Cavaliers and Indiana Pacers that sends him to the Brooklyn Nets for a package of players and picks.
Among other assets, the Rockets received Nets guard Caris LeVert, who was subsequently moved to the Pacers in exchange for Victor Oladipo. Jarrett Allen and Taurean Prince will leave the Nets for Cleveland in this deal, while the Rockets land Cavaliers guard Dante Exum and Brooklyn forward Rodions Kurucs.
In addition to the players, Houston receives Brooklyn’s first-round picks in 2022, 2024 and 2026; a Milwaukee first-round pick; and first-round pick swaps with the Nets in 2021, 2023, 2025 and 2027, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.
Per Charania, all four first-round picks and all four first-round pick swaps sent to Houston are unprotected.
How did we get here, you might ask?
Lakers laugh Rockets off floor in blowout win
This clip of LeBron James in the second quarter highlighted an embarrassing Rockets loss to the Lakers that sent them spiraling toward the bottom of the Western Conference standings at 3-6.
Lakers point guard Dennis Schroder revealed after the game that James’ no-look 3-pointer came as the result of a bet made in the middle of the game.
“I told him to bet a Benjamin on it, so he shot it,” Schroder said. “Shot it and turned around and said: ‘Bet.’ Then, it went in. It’s just legendary.”
— NBA TV (@NBATV) January 13, 2021
The loss marked the first time since Dec. 6, 2018 that no Rocket scored 20 points or more.
“I’m not gonna say there was a lack of fight or a lack of competitiveness,” Rockets coach Stephen Silas said. “But we didn’t bring the right intensity to the game.”
Harden: Team isn’t good enough
Harden took it a step further once his time came to address the media, and wasted no time levying harsh criticism of the Rockets in the wake of the fourth loss in the team’s last five outings.
Harden finished with 16 points on 5-of-16 shooting with six assists, marking the fourth straight game he didn’t produce 20 points more for his longest such streak since 2012. That didn’t stop Harden from unloading on the Rockets, which had just dropped two games in a row to the Lakers by a combined 35 points.
“We’re just not good enough,” Harden said. “We’re not even close, honestly, to that team – obviously the defending champions – and to all the other elite teams out there. You can tell the difference in these last two games. Obviously, chemistry, talent-wise, everything, and it was clear these last few games. From the beginning of the game, they were just aggressive, veteran team, obviously, a championship team, and one of the best teams that we have in this league.”
“I love this city,” Harden added. “I literally have done everything that I can. This situation is crazy. It’s something that I don’t think can be fixed.”
Wall: It’s hard when players don’t buy in
Harden abruptly ended his postgame availability after his scathing remarks, leaving new point guard John Wall to respond to the former MVP’s criticisms of the team. Understandably, he was not pleased.
“When you have certain guys in the mix that don’t want to buy in,” Wall said, “it’s gonna be hard to do anything special, to do anything good as a basketball team. In my 11 years I’ve been in the league, I’ve been on teams like that my first five years where it was all about me, me, me, me, not about the team. And that hurts, and it brings everybody down.”
Wall later admitted to experiencing some chemistry issues on the floor with Harden.
“I think it’s been a little rocky,” Wall said. “Can’t lie about that. I don’t think it’s been the best it could be to be honest. That’s all I really could say.”
Silas says Harden being kept away from team
A night to sleep on Tuesday’s disastrous performance and Harden’s critical remarks did little to assuage Silas’ concerns regarding how the Rockets should proceed.
So, the team convened at the Toyota Center for practice on Wednesday without Harden in the fold.
“We felt it was best for James and the rest of the group for him not to come to practice today,” Silas said.
Asked whether the club needed to resolve the Harden situation before moving forward, Silas replied: “You would think so. There has to be some sort of resolution, whether it’s a complete buy-in at some level or some other way to get it taken care of. It’s not an easy situation by any stretch of the imagination. But for a team atmosphere and the good of the team, I’ll say everybody needs to be pointed in the same direction.”
Silas admitted that Harden’s criticisms Tuesday “were hard to hear, especially when you don’t believe it and know it not to be true.”
“You want everybody to be on the same page,” Silas said. “You want everybody to be committed to each other on an NBA team. With how things have gone the last few days – actually for a while – I’m not sure [the relationship can be repaired].”
Cousins: Disrespect has been happening since camp
New Rockets big man DeMarcus Cousins implied that tension between Harden and teammates had been brewing long before the star guard voiced a lack of confidence in the club.
“Me, personally, I don’t feel betrayed at all,” Cousins said. “My interest is playing with John Wall to be brutally honest. With that being said, the disrespect started way before any interview.”
"I don't feel betrayed at all. My interest was with playing with John Wall, to be brutally honest."
DeMarcus Cousins on if he feels betrayed by James Harden. pic.twitter.com/yRlyOFw0In
— ESPN (@espn) January 13, 2021
It all started back in early December, when Harden reported late for training camp. Before Harden could be cleared for work with the team, he needed to test negative for COVID-19 on six consecutive days. But during Harden’s time away, pictures of the guard on a trip to Las Vegas circulated on social media, as did images of him attending a birthday party in Atlanta for rapper Lil Baby, while the rest of his Rockets teammates had already reported to training camp.
“Just the approach to training camp, showing up the way he did, the antics off the court,” Cousins said. “I mean, the disrespect started way before. So, this isn’t something that all of the sudden happened last night. With that being said, this is the nasty part of the business.
“I just feel like it’s a way about handling business. He can feel however he wants to feel about the organization or whatever his current situation is. But the other 14 guys in the locker room have done nothing to him. So, for us to be on the receiving end of some of the disrespectful comments and antics, it’s completely unfair to us.
“We’ve done nothing to him. We’ve only showed up to work just like everybody else and came in ready to work. It’s completely unfair to the rest of the guys in the locker room.”
Trade talks reportedly heat up between Philly, Brooklyn
With Harden sequestered from the Houston Rockets, the club’s previously slow-moving trade talks intensified, according to Charania and Sam Amick of The Athletic.
Silas said he spoke to Harden earlier Wednesday and admitted to enduring a sleepless night wrestling with how the team should proceed in the wake of the star guard’s remarks. Those criticisms, no doubt, played a role in the Rockets accelerating efforts to move Harden after previously hoping he’d come around.
Despite all that had transpired, Silas spoke highly of Harden on Wednesday.
“James gave me a chance,” Silas said. “I spoke to James before I was offered the job. That was the last domino that needed to fall in order for me to get this job. James was nothing but professional to me, and we’ve had some good conversations. So, as far as his commitment to me, it’s been good, and just a crazy NBA situation. It really is.
“I know that all the questions are trying to kind of maybe finger-point or find a story in it. But it’s really just one of those kind of all-around messed-up situations that’s hard to kind of quantify and kind of wrap your mind around in figuring out the best way to have the group move forward. That’s my job, and it was a sleepless night last night trying to figure out what the best way to do that would be.”
Brooklyn lands Harden, adding a third star player
The Nets have a new big three 👀 pic.twitter.com/aAGBXLCN0s
— NBA TV (@NBATV) January 13, 2021
With the Nets releasing a statement on Tuesday regarding the absence of star guard Kyrie Irving, who remains away from the team due to personal reasons, the club solidified a contingency plan in case of an extended unavailability.
Either way, the trade for Harden makes the Nets a legitimate contender in the Eastern Conference. With Harden joining Kevin Durant and Irving in Brooklyn, the Nets now have three players who made the 2018-19 All-NBA First Team (Harden) or Second Team (Durant and Irving).
Brooklyn, reportedly, was one of Harden’s preferred destinations all along. The deal reunites Harden with Durant, his former Oklahoma City teammate, as well as former Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni, who worked with the All-Star guard for four seasons in Houston and is now an assistant on the Nets’ staff.
Harden and Durant have captured seven of the last 11 NBA scoring titles and, according to Elias Sports Bureau, become the fifth pair of teammates in league history to play on the same team after winning multiple scoring titles.