Brooklyn-bound: Nets land Harden in blockbusteron January 14, 2021 at 7:09 pm

The Rockets have sent James Harden to the Nets in a blockbuster four-team trade that also involves the Pacers and Cavaliers, completing the unhappy star’s exit from Houston and setting up a potential superteam in Brooklyn.

The Nets and Rockets announced the trade Thursday morning. Brooklyn dealt Houston a package that includes guard Caris LeVert and three first-round draft picks.

League sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne that the Rockets will trade LeVert to the Indiana Pacers for Victor Oladipo. The Rockets and Pacers have not yet announced that deal.

Center Jarrett Allen and forward Taurean Prince are headed from the Nets to the Cavaliers, while the Rockets receive Cleveland guard Dante Exum and Brooklyn forward Rodions Kurucs.

Houston also receives three unprotected first-round picks from Brooklyn — in 2022, 2024 and 2026 — plus pick swaps in 2021, 2023, 2025 and 2027, the Nets announced. The Rockets also get Cleveland’s 2022 first-round pick, via the Milwaukee Bucks, and Houston is sending a 2023 second-round pick to the Pacers, sources told ESPN.

Brooklyn also gets a 2024 second-round pick from the Cavaliers. The Nets have three open roster spots to fill out their bench, if they choose — a $5.7 million tax midlevel, the minimum exception and likely a $5.7 million disabled player exception.

The megadeal reunites Harden with former Oklahoma City teammate Kevin Durant in Brooklyn and positions the Nets, who also have All-Star guard Kyrie Irving, as title contenders in the Eastern Conference.

“Adding an All-NBA player such as James to our roster better positions our team to compete against the league’s best,” Nets general manager Sean Marks said in a statement released by the team. “James is one of the most prolific scorers and playmakers in our game, and we are thrilled to bring his special talents to Brooklyn.

“While we are excited to welcome James and his family to the Nets, we also want to thank the players who are departing. Caris, Jarrett, Rodions and Taurean were instrumental to the team’s success and have made an enormous impact on our organization. It has been a pleasure watching them grow both as players and as people and they will always be part of our Nets family. We wish each of them and their families all the best in the future.”

Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo, the league’s two-time reigning MVP, said the trade is “an amazing move by Brooklyn.”

“Obviously they got better, way better,” Antetokounmpo said after recording a triple-double in Milwaukee’s victory Wednesday over the Pistons. “And they’re really a powerhouse right now in the East having KD, James Harden, Kyrie Irving together on one team. That’s tough.

“But, at the end of the day, we’ve got to focus on ourselves. We’ve got to keep improving, keep playing good basketball and moving forward, we’ll see how it is going to end up.”

The trade was agreed to after the Rockets opted to keep Harden away from Wednesday’s practice, following the former MVP’s comments Tuesday that Houston isn’t “good enough” to compete for a championship.

Harden hired Jason Ranne and Chafie Fields from Wasserman, and they worked closely with the Rockets and all teams involved to secure the trade for him, sources told ESPN. Wasserman also represented Russell Westbrook and worked closely with the Rockets on his trade to Wizards.

Harden, who was unable to get the Rockets past the Western Conference finals, had remained quiet through months of reports that he was unhappy in Houston. First-year Rockets head coach Stephen Silas called the drama surrounding Harden an “all-around messed up situation.”

“On behalf of the entire Rockets organization and the City of Houston, I’d like to thank James Harden for an amazing eight-plus seasons in a Rockets uniform,” Rockets owner Tilman J. Fertitta said in a statement. “James has provided us with so many great memories as we’ve watched him grow from Sixth Man of the Year to a perennial All-Star and MVP. My family and I also want to thank James for his many off the court contributions, including generous charitable donations and multiple annual community events. We wish James the best of luck and will always be grateful for the memories.”

The Rockets are 3-6 — only Minnesota has a worse record in the Western Conference — and Houston guard John Wall called the situation “rocky,” while fellow newcomer DeMarcus Cousins said before Wednesday’s trade that Harden’s antics were “disrespectful” to his teammates.

The Nets were ready to swoop in, after a shaky defense during the early season proved their best chance to beat teams might be to outscore them. Harden won each of the past three scoring titles by notable margins — 2.3 points over Anthony Davis in 2017-18, 8.1 points over Paul George in 2018-19 and 3.8 points over Bradley Beal last season. His average so far this season ranked 18th in the NBA, well off his usual pace.

It could pick back up again in Brooklyn, where Nash’s assistant running the offense is Mike D’Antoni, Harden’s coach during his best seasons in Houston.

D’Antoni didn’t return after last season, and it quickly became clear Harden wanted out too. He was a no-show when camp opened and was later fined $50,000 for conduct detrimental to the league after attending an indoor event without a mask in violation of the NBA’s health and safety protocols.

The Nets are scheduled to visit the Rockets on March 3 (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) — the last game of the first half of their schedules.

At the Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill, the Nets moved ahead of the Bucks and are now the second-favorites to win the NBA title, behind only the Los Angeles Lakers. The Nets’ title odds improved from +550 to +300.

“My first thought: It’s good to get James Harden to the East,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr told 95.7 The Game in San Francisco. “A lot of the dominant NBA players have been in the West for whatever reason. And it’s good to balance it out.”

By adding Harden, the Nets will be able to trot out a lineup of three players capable of scoring 25 or more points on any night, giving them a collection of firepower to rival any big three in recent years.

Harden and Durant, who have combined to win seven of the past 11 NBA scoring titles entering this season, become the fifth pair of teammates in NBA history to play on the same team after winning multiple scoring titles, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Durant, who scored 26 points in the Nets’ 116-109 win over the Knicks on Wednesday, is averaging 29.4 points through nine games in his first season back from surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles tendon. Irving was scoring 27.1 per game before leaving the team last week for personal reasons.

Harden, who had joined the Rockets after training camp began, is averaging 24.8 points this season after three straight seasons above 30.

ESPN’s Malika Andrews and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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