James Harden And The Rare, Unnecessary But Good Trade

When all cylinders were firing for every team involved in this new, ugly NBA season, arguably no team looked and played better than the Brooklyn Nets.

Kevin Durant was back – and not just playing basketball – but playing basketball the way he used to play it, showing no signs that his Achilles tear in the 2019 NBA Finals was going to slow him down.  Kyrie Irving was a sorcerer, scoring in his usual variety of ways while making defenses pay for focusing too much attention toward Durant.  

Caris LeVert was playing perhaps the best basketball of his career.  He’d tied his career-high field goal percentage while handling an uptick in usage and raising his assist total from last season by 1.6 a game.  He had limited his turnovers while handling the ball at a greater clip thanks a new, exciting role as a sixth man.

All of that action on the Nets court left Joe Harris completely wide open, where he’s cashed in threes at a 51.7% mark this season on 5.7 attempts per game.  His number of shots could double and the same percent of them would likely go in.

The Nets – even at just 6-6 and seventh in the Eastern Conference – were killing it. They ranked fourth in offensive rating and 12th defensively – the latter more impressive as Brooklyn has been without its two stars for a majority of the season and has the character of a team that’d mail in on that side of the ball.  They also lost Spencer Dinwiddie for the year – a key rotation player whose minutes and production fell into the laps of a struggling Landry Shamet and an inexperienced Bruce Brown.  Plus, a first-time head coach in Steve Nash was charged with navigating all of this.

Now, the sailing through potentially tough times with little expectations turns into the opposite of that.  The Nets now have James Harden instead of Caris LeVert, and thing are great.  But the pressure is on.


The package it took for Brooklyn to land Harden is massive and unprecedented.  For the third time in two years, we’ve seen the biggest draft pick package in NBA history moved along for a superstar (Anthony Davis, Paul George/Kawhi Leonard, and now Harden).  Houston’s control of Brooklyn’s next eight picks represents the exact type of deal the Rockets wanted in exchange for its former MVP’s services, and like the Lakers’ deal for Davis did in 2019, makes up for the lack of a true star or young player coming back from Brooklyn (Houston was able to get that star though, as we’ll address soon).

For the Nets, Harden, those picks, LeVert and Jarrett Allen is all a risk worth taking.  There’s few excuses for them to win the title now.  Harden’s replacement of LeVert gives Brooklyn more reliable shooting, upgrades the its No. 1 ball-handling role and affects winning to a much higher degree (Harden’s not the best player on a championship team despite his definite status as a top 7-8 player in this league, but he doesn’t need to be that on this team).  

Most fascinating about Harden’s move to Brooklyn is whether he or Irving is the point guard.  That doesn’t mean one has to necessarily take a backseat, but these are both players that we’ve haggled with in the past about what their true position is.  Harden’s been paired with multiple point guards in the past, only for those duos to result in failure.  It would be interesting to see what Harden can do solely as a shooting guard, where he’s focused on purely scoring and not running an offense.  Brooklyn offers him the opportunity to return to his Oklahoma City-like role, but then it’s Irving – a less gifted passer and perhaps more selfish player – deciding who gets the ball.

Flip things the other way around and the same problem emerges.  Irving might be better suited just getting his own buckets rather than facilitating them out.  Harden’s fantastic passing skills make him at the 1 work, but his historic usage rates and built-in habits of initiating possessions could lead to a clogging of the Nets offense, and fizzle Durant and Irving completely out of the scheme.

These scenarios are scary.  Perhaps its the result of overthinking though.  Brooklyn now has two of the seven best guys in the league, and three of the top 15 or so, with Irving able to elevate to Harden’s level with a sense of unselfishness.  Those three guys can get any shot they want at any time.  

There’s also a chance Brooklyn doesn’t have all of those three guys, and that the trade for Harden serves as insurance for that.  Irving remains away from the team for personal reasons, with not only us but the Nets uncertain of when his return will be.  That’s concerning – for Irving and for Brooklyn – and might have been the catalyst for the Harden deal.  Durant’s playing at a level high enough to carry Brooklyn without Irving – though Dinwiddie’s absence would have meant a large ball-handling load for the forward coming off Achilles surgery.

Harden serves as a fall-back for that deathly scenario, and pairs Durant with his former OKC teammate to form perhaps the most potent guard-forward combo in the league.  

If Irving’s absence is prolonged, the loss of LeVert may prove larger than expected.  Brooklyn was getting by with its two stars and its sixth man.  In a world without Irving, its down to just two stars and… Jeff Green.

The sending off of Jarrett Allen wasn’t shocking but also shows the true colors of Brooklyn’s intentions.  They’re a star-based team now, and such means appeasing those stars as well.  That means DeAndre Jordan plays, starts and closes, a laughable load considering Allen’s presence on the team prior to Wednesday. At least Brooklyn has eliminated controversy, but Allen’s youth and athleticism is a stark contrast from the low effort and washed look of Jordan.  In addition, only receiving a second round pick from Cleveland in exchange for Allen is majorly selling low.

Brooklyn rid itself of literally all depth it possessed in Wednesday’s deal.  The Rockets also got Rodions Kurucs – who’d get more shine if Harris wasn’t on the Nets and needs more minutes to show off his shooting stroke.  At 22, he’s a rare young player on Houston’s roster that Brooklyn probably could have gotten away with keeping.

The Nets need the trade for Harden to work.  Like, really need for it to work.  Riding on its success is only eight first round picks and two young pieces sent away.  For a team to make a deal like that, it has to be sure, have no second guesses and no questions about whether it was worth it.  

Brooklyn is paying for its team to have a higher ceiling here.  While the roster the Nets have is guaranteed on paper to a win a title, nothing in this league ever is exactly that.  However, with Harden in hand, Brooklyn has more of a guarantee than it did previously.  Issues and questions exist – violating the rules set above – but finding a team more talented and scary throughout basketball is tough.  Nothing was guaranteed with Brooklyn’s prior roster construction, but the same adjectives could have been used on Tuesday – or any day before.


For as contentious as the situation got and as subordinated as the Rockets were,  their dumping of Harden to the Nets resulted in one of the biggest returns ever for a star player, and gave Houston a rare mix of present and future value that keeps both timelines afloat.

First, Houston landed the star player they coveted in a Harden trade in Indiana’s Victor Oladipo, who while likely not an All-NBA talent, is just outside that range and could elevate to it with health on his side.  They chose Oladipo over LeVert, which is a purely win-now, upside-focused move with Oladipo’s impending free agency.  While it won’t make Houston a contender this year, it at least gives Oladipo a familiarity with the city and team, which could make him more likely to stay next summer.

At that point, Houston could be an intriguing bunch.  John Wall, Oladipo, Eric Gordon, PJ Tucker and Christian Wood certainly isn’t a bad team and would figure to be a solid playoff bunch with proper acquaintance.  Wall’s renaissance this season has been a great story, and Oladipo’s shown his potential in the past.  Wood is a monster, and Houston’s impressive and surprising youth (Jae’Sean Tate, Sterling Brown and Mason Jones) gives them more to work with than previously thought (That’s not accounting for Kurucs and Dante Exum, who’s suitable as a fourth guard).  

If Oladipo doesn’t work out and leaves, Houston takes a swing at raising its stock for this season and potentially next while losing out on LeVert.  As much as we’d like for LeVert to be that guy, he doesn’t have the ceiling Oladipo does.

The picks received from Brooklyn aren’t only incredible in a vacuum, but are massive for a Houston team that owes Oklahoma City at least two first round picks and potentially four depending on whether the Thunder want to swap spots this draft and in 2025.  With this surplus, it gives Houston the flexibility to dump some of them into a trade for another star player someday – whether that be to maximize a roster hampered by Wall’s contract or well into the future.  Either way, Houston now joins only two other teams in the league with a war chest this deep – New Orleans and OKC being the other two.  That’s a rare class, and neither of those teams are currently better than Houston is right now.

After a slow start to the season on the Harden front, things blew up Tuesday night and quickly manifested.  Despite what was a rapid escalation of talks, the Rockets miraculously talked themselves out of a negative leverage situation and set up its present and future in a matter of hours.  Any doubts cast about the new front office in Houston headed by Rafael Stone were eliminated Wednesday, as a toxic situation stunningly turned into one of the league’s best.


The Indiana Pacers saw an opportunity as the Harden trade developed.

Oladipo has wavered on his commitment to the franchise ever since returning from his quad injury suffered in 2019.  The summer and subsequent Bubble was marred by trade rumors, questions about opting in or out of Orlando and struggles with his play on the court.

Wednesday suggested that Indiana couldn’t trust Oladipo, and understandably so.  With free agency upcoming, the Pacers couldn’t afford to lose him for nothing.  Him bolting had to be their inkling, because a team as good as Indiana is – with as much promise and potential, too – doesn’t trade their potential best player like this without real cause.

But the Pacers did what they had to do, and made out quite well.  While Oladipo might reduce their ceiling thanks to his perimeter shot creation and gamer attitude on both ends, LeVert brings a similar offensive prowess even if it’s a tad less impactful.  The defense isn’t there with him, but a lack of LeVert on the roster leaves Indiana with just Malcolm Brogdon outside the paint to create shots for himself and others.

Contract situation aside, Oladipo could have been a bit expendable thanks to Domantas Sabonis’ emergence as a shot creator for himself.  The nifty passer has thinned out, added explosiveness and gotten to the rim with ease so far this season, giving Indiana another weapon to deploy late in games.  Sabonis’ games just continues to evolve, and the Pacers are reaping the benefits of it.

The questions for LeVert entering Indiana revolve around what’s likely to be another change in role.  He was thriving off the bench as Brooklyn’s sixth man – where he was given freedom to play his way, create and run the show.  The Pacers are an organized team, with a sets revolving around Sabonis and Brogdon handling the ball.  LeVert could emerge as the team’s go-to scorer if they need it, but how far does that ultimately get the Pacers?

LeVert’s likely going to be adjusting once again, which could lead to a decrease in performance.  His high volume scoring will help mitigate the loss of TJ Warren, who figures to be out a “significant portion of the season,” according to ESPN.  When Warren is back, Indiana has significant firepower between him, LeVert, Brogdon and Sabonis.  In the meantime, Aaron Holiday likely slides into the starting lineup, balancing out efficiency issues LeVert may bring to the table.

Indiana sold high on Oladipo, and got out of losing him for nothing. The Pacers operated similarly to Houston, and acquired value out of a low-leveraged position.  A lot of front offices justified themselves Wednesday, but the biggest surprise might be the group below.


The idea of the Cleveland Cavaliers acquiring yet another big man was silly.

Swamped with Andre Drummond, JaVale McGee, Kevin Love, Larry Nance Jr., Thon Maker and the unanticipated Dean Wade, the last thing Cleveland needed was another front court presence.

But Jarrett Allen is different.

The Cavaliers had been operating two different timelines with their roster: the youthful backcourt of Collin Sexton and Darius Garland and the aging front-court with seemingly washed up veterans.

It had worked.  Cleveland has been playing way better ball than expected this season, mostly thanks to the tenacious defense of rookie wing Isaac Okoro and the dynamism of Sexton and Garland.  Drummond is also partially responsible, turning himself into player that could find himself on a contender by the trade deadline.  

Still, the ceiling on that squad was low.  Cleveland has routinely played lineups with three or four of the players listed above together, with Nance Jr. playing at the 3 or even the 2.

Now, the Cavaliers have a lineup of the future in place, with Allen’s 22-year-old frame at the center of it.  By the time Love’s contract is up, Drummond is moved and McGee is gone, Cleveland will have a young, solid eight man rotation – with one more wing being the missing piece.

The trade was a no-brainer for the Cavaliers, as Allen was acquired for the price of a second round pick.  Allen’s capable of being the starting center on a Finals contender as a 22-year-old, and Cleveland got him essentially for free.

Game Notes From Super Wild Card Weekend

Here are some thoughts on from Super Wild Card Weekend followed by a look at the head coaching landscape throughout the NFL.

Bills-27 Colts-24

  • Blame analytics and Frank Reich’s coaching all you want, but this game ultimately came down to Buffalo’s explosive offense.
  • Sure, kicking on fourth-and-goal on the four yard line instead of going for it with 1:52 left in the first half might have provided the Colts with the three points needed to get Saturday’s game to overtime, but Indianapolis also missed a field goal on their first drive of the second half – which represents those same three points – and squandered a gift from the officials on the last drive of the game.
  • The Colts two plays immediately after the (unnecessary) review were the dagger.  No rhyme or reason existed for either.  Indianapolis only needed 16 yards for a reasonable kick and neither play was predicated on completing that objective.
  • Zach Pascal’s fumble being upheld as “down by contact” had the potential to be one of the worst blown calls in playoff history if Indy capitalized on it.  The refs throughout the game reviewed plays that didn’t needed to be looked at.  If the plays did, then the review went on way too long.  The end of the game only epitomized the issues that plagued it throughout.
  • Indy had chances to win even outside of its own mistakes.  The Colts got down two possessions and simply couldn’t close that gap up.  They let Allen run all over them.  Jonathan Taylor had just two good runs.  Phillip Rivers only averaged 6.7 yards per attempt, thanks to a second half which saw downfield passing opportunities close up for the 39-year-old.
  • Blame the call on fourth down all you want, but Buffalo was just better.  Overtime gives no promises.  Reich’s decision represented a higher ceiling for Indy in the game.  If they convert, the Colts are up two possessions instead of down two.  That arguably puts the game away, and is a much better guarantee than overtime.

Rams-30 Seahawks-20

  • This was what we feared with Seattle.
  • The Seahawks looked nearly unstoppable early in the year and suffered a perhaps greater than expected regression after its start, leaving their viability in the playoffs to be one big ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
  • There was no way to the trust the offense coming in.  Its turnovers – mostly thanks to the sudden carelessness from Russell Wilson – and the Rams formidable defense made betting on Seattle a risky proposition.
  • Our fears were right.  The Rams stifled everything the Seahawks did.  Wilson was downright horrible, going 11/27 for 174 yards.  He was sacked five times without Aaron Donald on the field for over a quarter.  He fell victim to a pick-six, which was more of a great play by Darious Williams than a bad throw, but it ultimately put Seattle down two possessions early after their slow start.  For an offense that’s been as jammed as the Seahawks’ has, a turnover like that was a death sentence.
  • It was so important that Seattle couldn’t even fight its way back against an offense partially led by a QB making his second-ever career start and Jared Goff with a broken thumb.  Goff did enough – when he threw he wasn’t holding back.  Cam Akers made up for the Rams’ troubles at QB, gashing Seattle consistently on the ground and eating clock while doing so. But it was the Rams defense that put Seattle in a cage, locked them up and ran away with the game.
  • Seattle needs another playmaker on offense.  That – in addition to getting younger up front offensively and keeping its defense healthy – will allow the Seahawks to make their early season form a consistency. 

Buccaneers-31  Washington-23

  • Concerns similar to those held about the Seahawks followed Tampa Bay into this game.  Both teams teetered on them, with Seattle falling and the Bucs escaping.
  • The inconsistency was on full display.  Tampa Bay couldn’t pull away from Washington the way we expected them to.  The Buccaneers defense let Taylor Heinicke hang around, who wasn’t amazing but beat expectations in his second career start, thanks to incredible poise he displayed while in the pocket.  Tom Brady finished just above the 50 percent mark completing passes.  Tampa couldn’t contain Cam Sims.  It wasn’t exactly a performance that should make us ooze with confidence in them.
  • Heinicke is too old for Washington to consider him to be a part of their future, but he should serve as a nicely-paid backup QB for somebody next year.
  • A ton of credit should be given to Washington for this game and everything they accomplished this season with Alex Smith coming back and playing quite well.
  • Tampa, meanwhile, has a date coming up with New Orleans where they will likely be the underdog, and deservedly so.

Ravens-20 Titans-13

  • In what was really two different games, Baltimore proved (for now) that their run to close the regular season was much more about them getting right than a fluke.
  • After Tennessee took a 10-0 lead, the Ravens and Lamar Jackson turned into the team and player we saw last season.  Jackson’s legs were an unstoppable force.  The Ravens defense turned Ryan Tannehill into his Miami self.  It also stuffed Derrick Henry in his tracks.
  • When you take away Henry from the Titans, it forces their offense into flux.  Tannehill’s improvement over the past two seasons has been incredible,  but there’s still aspects of his game that haven’t and won’t change.  Take away play-action from him – as Baltimore did Sunday – and Tannehill’s still among the average tier of QBs in the league.
  • It’s a massive credit to Baltimore overall.  Stopping Henry is no easy task, but the offense’s ability to turn on the jets and execute exactly when needed made the defensive effort mean that much more.
  • Tennessee had a chance to take the lead late.  They got into Baltimore territory with about 10 minutes left and hit a 4th and 2 “wall” at the 40 yard line, and punted instead of going for it.
  • Ultimately, it was a time wasting move.  The Ravens only scored a field goal on the ensuing drive to make it 20-13, but Tennessee was then left with just one possession to make up the deficit, which ended in an interception that was partially Tannehill’s fault and partially the field’s fault as his intended receiver slipped.  There’s a good chance that without Kalif Raymond falling down, the pass would’ve been picked since it was a bit high.
  • Mike Vrabel’s call to punt wasn’t a vote of confidence in his defense – it was one in his offense.  And based on how that group had played in the second half, it couldn’t have been more wrong and misguided.

Saints-21 Bears-9

  • This is what Mitch Trubisky in a playoff game looks like.
  • It started off okay.  Trubisky showed a bit of a willingness to push the ball downfield, but only truly connected on one of them thanks to a penalty and Javon Wims’ horrible drop in the end zone – which if caught would have tied the game at seven late in the first quarter
  • After that drop, everything seemed to fall apart for the Bears.  Trubisky took the crown as the checkdown, short throw king.  David Montgomery was way too involved for how ineffective he was.  The offense simply couldn’t move the ball, and killer penalties on both sides of the field (including a million false starts) didn’t help.
  • New Orleans’ offense wasn’t that much better in terms of aggressiveness. The Saints just possessed the play-makers Chicago didn’t.  Their running game showed up, with Alvin Kamara running for 99 yards and a touchdown.  Short passes got action after the catch from Deonte Harris and Michael Thomas, who picked apart the Bears zone defense like it was nothing.  
  • New Orleans could move the ball despite their QBs limitations.  Chicago couldn’t.

Browns-48 Steelers-37

  • You know those games where it’s so evidently clear from the very beginning that it’s going to go a certain way?  That was how this one went.
  • The high snap by Maurkice Pouncey on the very first play from scrimmage that rolled into the end zone and gave the Browns a 7-0 lead right off the bat was the catalyst for the feeling described above.  Pittsburgh – which has an offense not designed to come from behind thanks to its washed up, dink-and-dunking QB – was in a hole from the very start.  And before they could climb out of it, it only got deeper.
  • The Steelers’ next drives were additional disasters.  Roethlisberger threw a bad interception once they got the ball back, which Cleveland capitalized on immediately thanks to Nick Chubb.  A three-and-out followed, which the Browns converted into a 21-0 lead.  Then another pick followed – this time not Roethlisberger’s fault – which put the nail in the coffin before the casket was even picked as the Browns turned it into a 28-0 before the first quarter ended.
  • Pittsburgh didn’t go out uninspired.  It had the Browns on edge for a little bit in the second half, but four possessions ultimately became too insurmountable.  An unwise decision to punt on 4th and 1 with a quarter left while down just 12 thwarted the comeback.
  • While it wasn’t all their own doing, the Browns looked scary Sunday night.  Pittsburgh’s defense is good, and Cleveland gashed it with the duo of Chubb and Kareem Hunt.  They may not be able to put up as many points as Kansas City, but they could come quite close next weekend.
  • As for Pittsburgh, Sunday isn’t who it truly was, but 11-0 wasn’t either.  The Steelers were destined to run out of steam at some point – an offense that has that much trouble moving the ball can only be supported so heavily by the other side, no matter how much talent may exist.  Decisions from players and the front office await in Pittsburgh this offseason, and 2021-22 could bring about a much different team than we’ve been used to.

On the head coaching mill…

Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy is the hottest name on the market, and deservedly so.  There are four teams that should be leaning toward hiring him, and if they can’t, they should be in the business of hiring an offensive-minded, potentially play-calling head coach instead.

Those four organizations are the Jets, Texans, Eagles and Chargers.  Why them and not Jacksonville, Atlanta or Detroit?  Well, New York either needs someone to A) Turn Sam Darnold into the quarterback the Jets traded up for in 2018 despite limited weapons or B) Develop a rookie QB taken at No. 2 overall in the upcoming draft despite limited weapons.  The Chargers defense is among the best in the league from a talent standpoint and just needs to stay healthy, negating the need for a head coach who focuses on that side of the ball.  Plus, if Justin Herbert had the season he did with bad coaching, then imagine what’s possible with good coaching.  

The Eagles recent firing of Doug Pederson seems to be a culmination of a couple things.  It’s not his 100 percent his fault that Carson Wentz likely isn’t who we thought he was.  It’s also not his fault that Philadelphia has been ravaged by injuries since its Super Bowl winning season, and that no overhaul of the medical and training staff has taken place since then.  It is on Pederson – however – that he wasn’t Frank Reich, who seemed to unlock Wentz before he tore his ACL.  Philly needs someone who’s going to be able to do what Reich, for reasons we’ll address below.

Finally, there’s Houston, which seems to be a complete and utter fiasco organizationally right now.  Nobody could use Bieniemy more, and the Texans have refused to even interview him – irking franchise QB Deshaun Watson to the degree that he might be on the trade block.  With limited talent and draft capital, Houston has to make something out of nothing offensively outside of Watson.  No better coach exists to do that than Bieniemy.  If Houston uses its brain, Bieniemy should be the hire, no matter what the bill to ownership might be.

If that is what Houston does, here’s how the rest of the market should play out:

Brian Daboll: Jets

The Jets and Chargers don’t need to pony up the money for Biememy as much as Houston does, especially considering the consolidations that are available.

Daboll’s ability to elevate Josh Allen from a talented and incredibly frustrating QB to an MVP candidate makes him a prime candidate to turn Darnold around, if that’s what the Jets intend to do.  If not, Daboll’s developmental skills would serve whichever QB the Jets take in the draft well.

Darrell Bevell: Chargers

Justin Herbert put up an Offensive Rookie of the Year performance under a staff that likely didn’t maximize him.  While Titans’ offensive coordinator Arthur Smith would be the perfect fit here, the new opening in Philadelphia should be where he ends up.

The Chargers get one of the best options left.  Bevell has been a hot name since his Seattle days, and has never gotten a shot.  Him working with Herbert would be a blast, and ignite the Chargers offense to a whole new level.

Robert Saleh: Falcons

Atlanta needs a culture change and a reset on the defensive end.  The Falcons roster, like the Chargers’, is consistently banged up and just needs health to be successful.  Experience is aplenty on the offense, and Atlanta could use Saleh’s leadership and defensive prowess to get back to the playoffs.

Jaguars: Brandon Staley

Assuming Trevor Lawrence is who Jacksonville selects No. 1 overall in April’s draft, Staley makes the most sense.  Lawrence doesn’t need an offensive mastermind to be his head coach – he’s good enough already.  Jacksonville’s defense is still incredibly talented, and even if Lawrence struggles, Staley has spent this year at the helm of a defense that dragged an offense almost single-handily to round two of the playoffs.

Lions: Doug Pederson

Detroit seemed locked into promoting Bevell until Pederson became available.  Now  the best option, Pederson would be an excellent fit while attempting to lift the Lions offense.  It seems as though Pederson needs at least some talent around him as a coach, and Detroit offers more of it than we may think – if they decide not to blow things up.

Eagles: Arthur Smith

The Eagles don’t need a quarterback developer.  They need a fixer and elevator.

The bottom line is that it’s not possible or worth it for Wentz to not be on the roster next season.  Cutting him would put the team in salary cap hell, while trading him would still incur a cap hit the size of his salary.  Wentz likely told the Eagles it’s him or Pederson, and Pederson was much easier to cut bait with, causing his firing.

This means Wentz is an Eagle next season, and also means he’s the starting quarterback over Jalen Hurts.  Philly has to get as much as they can out of Wentz and the offense.  Smith would be the perfect fit – the turnaround Tannehill experienced in Tennessee under him is exactly what needs to happen with Wentz in order for the Eagles to be successful.