In the end, the Houston Rockets didn’t get the top-notch youngster they bragged about getting in exchange for James Harden – the second greatest player in franchise history, behind only Hakeem Olajuwon, and one of the all – time top scorers.
Victor Oladipo, acquired in exchange for Caris LeVert as part of this monstrosity, does not quite qualify. Oladipo is almost 29, two years old and with a major leg injury removed from his only All-NBA season. He’s been more like his old self this season; it gets to the rim at a pre-injury level. But he’s also eligible for the free agency this summer, when there will be a lot more ceiling space than stars available. It’s not out of the question that the Rockets will have to pay Oladipo the maximum salary, or something close, to hold him back – if they wish, when the alternative is a potential cap.
LeVert doesn’t have Oladipo’s background, and he was gone for a blah shooting debut as a supporting actor in basketball’s most predictable soap opera. But he’s more than two years younger than Oladipo and has shown – including during the bubble – that he may be ready for a bigger role. He has a decent contract for three seasons – a contract that would have had positive business value for the Rockets had they decided to return LeVert later.
Houston is not wrong to bet that Oladipo will be better for the next three seasons. I might still prefer LeVert. For the Indiana Pacers, catching LeVert in exchange for a player who was probably leaving anyway is a huge win. Oladipo’s future with Indiana is murky to say the least, as talks about a potential extension didn’t go anywhere until last season. LeVert has a broadly similar skill set to Oladipo and is suitable alongside Malcolm Brogdon, Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner.
There are two questions that really matter on the megadeal Harden:
• Has Houston had enough?
• Have the Brooklyn Nets improved their championship odds enough to justify the huge pile of draft assets they’ve shelled out: three unprotected first-round picks and four unprotected swaps, a bonus that lasts until 2027 – when Harden, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are old (by NBA standards) or retired?