James Harden got his wish; the Houston Rockets traded him to the Brooklyn Nets as the headline for a deal that involves 4 teams – Rockets, Nets, Cavaliers and Pacers. This trade gives the Nets a “Big 3” alignment of Durant, Harden and Irving – – when Irving can get himself focused on basketball and not outside issues. This trade signals that the Nets are focused on winning a championship now – or very shortly into the future. Here are the highlights of the trade:
- Rockets get Rodions Kurocs, Dante Exum, Victor Oladipo and four unprotected first-round picks (Brooklyn 2022, 2024 and 2026, Milwaukee 2022), and four unprotected first-round pick swaps (2021, 2023, 2025, 2027).
- Nets get James Harden.
Let me start with the Rockets. This puts them in an interesting “tear down and rebuild mode”. Kurocs and Exum are role players; Kurocs is only 22 years old so he has room to “develop” but the odds are that he will bounce around the league as a throw-in for a variety of trades over the years. Exum is in his mid-20s and is sort of in the same position. Oladipo is an All-Star when he is healthy – – but he is not always healthy. If you pair him with John Wall, you have two players who are All-Stars when healthy – – but neither is always healthy. Wall and Oladipo should prevent the Rockets from being awful – – but nothing more than that.
The Rockets, however, now have the draft capital for a rebuild. It may appear at first that those first-round draft swaps are of no value since the Nets look to be very good and drafting at the bottom of the first round. That is almost certainly true for 2021 and 2023, but as the Nets’ “Big 3” start to age, those swaps in 2025 and 2027 might develop some value.
The Nets are clearly in “Win Now Mode”. Back in December when the first rumblings of “Harden to the Nets” was the headline story in NBA circles, I said that it would be a risky move for the Nets for two reasons:
- Harden and Irving both want/need the ball to be as effective as they can be. Durant does not need the ball as much as the other two, but he is more efficient offensively than the other two in the sense that he scores a lot of points with the ball in his hands for a relatively short time. There is an unalterable fact about NBA basketball that applies here. There is only one ball in use on the court at any given time. We will soon find out if James Harden, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant learned their lessons about “sharing with others” in kindergarten.
- Defense is secondary in the NBA; please do not try to convince me otherwise. Having said that, two of the Nets’ “Big 3” exhibit nonchalance on defense over and above the typical lack of enthusiasm for that part of the game. Durant will play defense – and will have to against teams with topflight centers and power forwards – but that will limit his offensive production. When he is on the bench … Back in December, I said that the Nets’ opponents might be able to score as if it were a layup line.
[Aside: For anyone who wagers on NBA games – I do not! – let me suggest that you consider betting OVER in Nets’ games for a week or two until the “market adjusts” to the new scoring potential married with the new defensive liabilities of the Nets.]
I think the most important “intangible” in this trade is that James Harden gives the Nets a measure of insurance for those times when Kyrie Irving takes time off for injury and/or personal reasons. Over the last 3 NBA seasons, Irving has missed 87 games; so far this season, Irving has missed 6 of the 13 games on the Nets’ schedule.
If you believe that talent dominates everything else in the NBA, the Nets now must be the Eastern Conference favorites and – on a talent basis – on the same level as the Lakers out west. If you believe that offense is only part of the NBA game, you might see a few smudges on the shiny new toy in Brooklyn.
In other NBA happenings, the league is having difficulties with the coronavirus. Last season, the NBA was immensely successful with its “Orlando Bubble”; it finished off a regular season and ran a full complement of playoff games with only minimal overlap with the virus. It was an unadulterated success from a scheduling, health and safety standpoint. However, the main defense against the virus provided by the “Bubble” was the strict control over the people and the products that crossed the isolation boundary of the “Bubble”. In the current season, that isolation boundary does not exist.
This NBA season began on December 22nd; the first NBA game that had to be postponed happened on December 23rd; as of this morning seven games have been postponed and two more games scheduled for tomorrow are going to be postponed. That will make 9 games in 24 days that had to be scrapped due to the virus.
Obviously, there needed to be some form of tightening up the COVID-19 protocols currently in place if the league is to avoid either a hiatus or a shortened version of its already truncated season. At the current pace of postponements, there could be a scheduling crisis at the end of the season resembling the Gordian Knot.
Earlier this week, the league and the players have agreed to some new restrictions to try to limit the virus. They are well-intentioned; they will mitigate the problem if they are followed strictly. Aye, there’s the rub…
- Players and staff are not to leave their residences when the team is at home except for outside exercise, emergencies, essential services and team activities at the team facility.
- Anyone who visits the residence of a player or staff member on a regular basis – – like a personal chef – – must be tested for COVID-19 twice a week.
- Pre-game meetings in the locker rooms are limited to 10 minutes and everyone must be masked.
- Players cannot arrive at a game venue more than 3 hours in advance of tip-off.
- On an airplane, players can only sit next to a teammate whom they will sit next to on the bench.
- “Extended socializing” with players on opposing teams is “discouraged”.
- Mask wearing rules are extended.
- If a player or staff member tests positive for COVID-19, the league can mandate twice -a-day testing for players and staff in lieu of the standard daily testing set forth in the protocols.
Finally, yesterday I mentioned the contract extension between Jim Harbaugh and the University of Michigan. Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times had this take on that event:
“Jim Harbaugh has reached an incentive-laced contract extension to coach Michigan football through the 2025 season.
“No truth to the rumor that Ohio State boosters bankrolled the whole thing.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………