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

Within the midst of a gap month marked by recreation 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 via a pandemic, however just a few days of reflection hasn’t modified my preliminary response. Even with so many choices, clear winners on this deal don’t leap off the scorecard.

The daunting reality 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 worth to amass the Nets’ extremely rated middle Jarrett Allen.

The Indiana Pacers ought to be a part of them in celebrating the deal, offered 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 might purchase the promising former Nets ahead LeVert and his team-friendly contract. Kevin Pritchard, Indiana’s president of basketball operations, stated the Pacers are “tremendous assured” about LeVert’s restoration.

Indiana and Cleveland, regardless of their lesser roles as commerce facilitators, obtained many 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 choose of their subsequent seven drafts (yes, seven) to amass Harden and companion 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 had been holding out for in any Harden swap.

  • The Nets solely have their new star trio beneath 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 follow Tuesday after lacking seven video games for what started as “only a pause” that he stated he wanted due to “household and private stuff.” But nearly as good as Durant and Harden appeared collectively Monday night time in crunchtime of a house win over Milwaukee, mixing in a 3rd star who needs and wishes the ball adjustments 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 must flip these picks into at the very least one cornerstone participant extra gifted than Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons. Houston selected the Nets’ commerce provide and a trial run with Oladipo, who remains 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 might not deliver themselves to ship Harden to Morey’s new crew.

It ought 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 numerous acts of sabotage that fast-tracked his Houston exit and too readily dismissing what his distinct offensive expertise can do for the Nets.

Harden obtained what he wished in the long run after a number of the worst trade-forcing habits ever seen. He confirmed up late to coaching camp, flouted the league’s well being and security protocols on digicam, let his stage 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 chief 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 overtly questioned for presumably buying and selling away an excessive amount of to get him. Together with the 2022 first-round choose 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 fitting to swap first-round picks with the Nets within the 2021, 2023, 2025 and 2027 drafts.

Maybe one or each of these executives will probably 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 belongings, 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 loads of help behind the risk-taking.

The Los Angeles Clippers surrendered a fistful of draft belongings 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 the same transfer earlier that very same month to amass Anthony Davis from New Orleans and flank LeBron James with probably the most gifted teammate of his profession. These had 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 virtually 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 serious 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 appeared 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 towards offensive monsters like Antetokounmpo and Davis when Durant, Harden and Irving share the ground? How a lot can the Nets even depend 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 — and not using a coaching camp on high of Nash’s lack of expertise. Don’t neglect, moreover, that it took the James/Wade/Bosh Warmth greater than a season to determine loads 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, won’t 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 issues, 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 discipline three questions posed through e-mail at marcstein-newsletter@nytimes.com. (Please embrace your first and final identify, in addition to the town you’re writing in from, and ensure “Nook Three” is within the topic line.)

Q: Simply wished to say that, whereas two-game sequence 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 sequence within the first half of the 2019 season. So “baseball sequence” 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: Respect the angle, Joe. I answered a query in Corner Three last week that instructed two-game units by no means occur in baseball with out correctly difficult it.

That most likely stems, at the very least in my fading reminiscence, from them seeming a lot rarer within the Seventies and Eighties after I adopted baseball extra carefully. 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 sequence” for the N.B.A.’s two-game units that includes the identical two groups enjoying consecutive video games on the similar area, you may get your want. Higher alternate options have but to materialize.

In final week’s e-newsletter, I requested for reader strategies, 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’d classify as an inspiring nomination.

Q: As an alternative of “baseball-style sequence,” 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 towards the Rockets in Houston. The second recreation 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 typically earlier than, however I’m one of many world’s greatest doubles followers. I’ve campaigned for doubles to get extra protection from the tennis press since I used to be a youngster.

So I can’t deliver myself to attempt to remodel one of many pillar ideas of certainly one of 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 recreation 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 recreation missed; Irving missed two video games in the course of 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 superb Irving on the increased fee of 1/72 of his $33,329,100 million wage for every recreation missed, which might have totaled greater than $460,000 per recreation.

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

Seven gamers have posted a triple-double of their first recreation 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 p.c stake in a restaurant in Oklahoma Metropolis, Kd’s Southern Delicacies, which filed an software 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 recreation. 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 night time loss to the Clippers on Dec. 22.

Solely 4 gamers are averaging at the very least 37 minutes per recreation, and the Tom Thibodeau-coached Knicks have two of them. Indiana’s Domantas Sabonis leads the league at 37.5 minutes per recreation, adopted by the Knicks’ duo RJ Barrett and Julius Randle and the Nets’ Harden, all of whom are tied at 37.1 minutes per recreation.

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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