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The winners and losers of the James Harden trade

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14th January, 2021

After months of numerous rumours James Harden has finally been granted his wish and is no longer a Houston Rocket.

After executing a four-team trade Harden has reportedly managed to land on the Brooklyn Nets, where he will now play alongside Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

In a trade that involves this many teams there are multiple winners and losers. Here’s my take on the trade.


Brooklyn Nets
Starting with the obvious choice, Brooklyn have clearly won this trade just by landing the best player in the deal, Harden, a former MVP and a multiple scoring champion will add to their already prominent offence.

By already having Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving the Nets offence was ticking along quite nicely – that is, when they both play – but by adding Harden they have three guys who on any given night can give you 30-plus points without breaking a sweat.


The big question will be whether these three dominant players can coexist on the same team. For the sake of this list let’s say they manage to put the pieces together and work it all out. By having three guys who can get you a bucket whenever and however you want, they immediately become the hardest team to defend against – just looking at who their biggest threats in the east will be it’s fair to say that no team has enough power on the defensive end to lock up all three.

Will they all be able to share the ball? That’s the question looming over the team, and only time will tell. But on paper they look like they have the potential to be one of if not the best offensive team ever, which is why I have them as the winner of this trade.

James Harden holds the ball

James Harden is a Rocket no more. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Houston Rockets
Losing a former MVP and your franchise player normally means you’d lose the trade, but in this case I think the Rockets have managed to get back a decent return for their star player, who clearly had no interest in playing for them anymore.

In return for Harden the Rockets got Victor Oladipo, Dante Exum, Rodions Kurucs, three Brooklyn first-rounders, one Milwaukee first-rounder and four Brooklyn first-round pick swaps.

With Oladipo on an expiring deal I fully expect the Rockets to flip him at the trade deadline for more draft picks, so I wouldn’t expect him to be a big part of the Rockets future. I also don’t expect Exum to play much of a role in Houston, especially considering he too is on an expiring contract.

So if all the Rockets got back were two expiring contracts and a bench warmer in Kurucs, how did they win the trade?


Just over a year ago when the Rockets decided to trade Chris Paul along with a boatload of draft picks for Russell Westbrook, they mortgaged their future on the Westbrook-Harden duo being successful for a long time. As any NBA fan knows, this was far from the case, meaning the Rockets had lost control of their future draft picks, and without them rebuilding was going to be difficult.

With this trade Houston were able to land four first-round picks as well as a further four pick swaps. Depending on where the picks fall, this could be what jump starts the Rockets rebuild.

Indiana Pacers
Victor Oladipo had reportedly made it clear he didn’t want to play in Indiana much longer, and with an expiring deal he could have walked away for nothing at the end of the season. So for the Pacers to get Caris LeVert – who still has two years remaining on his contract after this season – for someone who was most likely going to walk in free agency is a big win.

The Pacers, who have had a solid start to the season, can build their team around All-Star Domantas Sabonis, the always efficient Malcolm Brogdon and now LeVert. I fully expect the Pacers to be genuine contenders in the east for years to come, which is why I consider them winners in this trade.

Boston Celtics
Before COVID-19 ravaged their team the Boston Celtics were coming along nicely. Their two young stars, Jayson Tatum (22) and Jaylen Brown (24), looked like they could be a top-five duo in the league while leading their team to a 7-3 record, all without All-Star point guard Kemba Walker, who is still out with a knee injury.

So why do the Celtics win this trade without being a part of it?


When Harden made his intentions to be traded clear the Celtics were one of the teams listed as being a potential suiter as they had enough assets to land the former MVP.

A Celtics trade package for Harden would have most likely included Jaylen Brown along with Kemba Walker and/or Marcus Smart plus draft picks.

Personally I don’t think the Celtics would have got better if they had done that trade and instead would have given away Brown, who at 24 is looking like a future star of the league, for a 31-year-old James Harden. The Celtics were smart to stay away from this deal in order to start building their team around Tatum and Brown.

Oklahoma City Thunder
When the Thunder traded Westbrook to the Rockets for an ageing Chris Paul as well as a boatload of draft picks just over a year ago I don’t think they would have predicted things would turn out this well for them.

Now that Houston looks set for a rebuild suddenly those future first-round draft picks look like they could have some real value to them as the Thunder also look to begin rebuilding their team. With all the picks being unprotected and the Rockets unlikely to be a playoff team, Oklahoma look like they’ve come out of this Harden trade as big winners.

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Philadelphia 76ers
Philadelphia were the frontrunners to land James Harden because a trade package centred around Ben Simmons was going to be better than anything else the Rockets would have been offered.

The All-Star point guard at 24 certainly has a bright future ahead, but whether he will reach his full potential on the Sixers alongside star big man Joel Embiid is one of the biggest questions looming over the Australian.

Personally I believe that due to Simmons’s lack of shooting he and Embiid will never be able to win a championship together as they don’t space the floor well enough to hurt the opposing team’s defence and have shown that they both play better when one of them is out or on the bench.

The other big issue is that Embiid, who will soon be 27, has an injury list as long as a book, and being a big man in the NBA with a history of injuries more often than not leads to a shorter career. This could mean that in two or three years, when Simmons is just entering his prime, a banged-up Embiid may no longer be able to produce his best.

Between Embiid’s uncertain future when it comes to injuries and the fact that they have had three seasons together without ever really looking like they could co-exist, the 76ers should have rolled the dice and traded Simmons for Harden.

Before Harden was traded to the Nets the east was wide open. You can make a case that a duo of Embiid and Harden would have been frontrunners to make it out of the east, but would they have worked better than Embiid and Simmons?


We’ll never know the answer to that, but I have a feeling that when/if the Sixers do break up this pair, they’ll regret not doing it for James Harden.

Potentially the Brooklyn Nets
Although I had them as being big winners in this trade, I could also see them being losers.

Kyrie Irving has already taken personal leave this season and has “gone off the gird” and given his previous history with these sort of things, no-one really knows just how disruptive he is in the locker room. Putting James Harden into the same team, also with a history off-court drama, and this big three could end up butting heads more often than not.

You also have to consider that Harden has had the luxury of having his own teams for the last eight years and now suddenly has to learn to be the second, maybe even third, star on the team. Harden’s history of getting along with other star teammates also doesn’t make for good reading.

In his eight years in Houston he was paired with Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook. All of these pairings started off with such high hopes only for each individual to walk away worse for wear.

The other big issue is that Harden, Durant and Kyrie are all ball-dominant players, meaning two of the three players are going to have to improve on playing off the ball, something Harden hasn’t done since 2012.


If these three don’t work out, suddenly we could see a repeat of the infamous Brooklyn Celtics trade where the Nets traded their future draft picks in order to win immediately only for it to backfire leading to the Celtics getting numerous high draft picks.

Stephen Silas
After being an assistant coach on seven different teams Silas was finally given the head role for the Houston Rockets. Considering when he accepted the role the Rockets were looking like they could at least make the playoffs, this would have been an exciting prospect for the first-time coach.

Soon after being appointed his two All-Star players in Westbrook and Harden were quick to request a trade, and now a few months in Silas has lost both of these players and is tasked with trying to put together whatever remaining pieces he has in order to build a team.

For a veteran coach this would be a tough ask; for a first-timer this may be a bridge too far. One can only hope that if things don’t work out in Houston for Silas, the industry will be kind and give him a second chance.

With a big three of Durant, Irving and Harden, the Nets have just made themselves a serious contender for the title. Will it work out? Only time will tell. All I know is that from what they can produce on the court as well as what these three players are known for off the court, the Brooklyn Nets will be must-watch TV.