Ranking how teams fared in Harden trade: Pacers emerge a big winner

Brad Fay is joined by ESPN's Kendrick Perkins to break down the blockbuster trade that sent James Harden from the Houston Rockets to the Brooklyn Nets.

In case you hadn’t heard -- and you really must’ve been caught up in some serious stuff if you haven't heard by now -- 2018 NBA MVP and three-time defending scoring champ James Harden is now a member of the Brooklyn Nets.

The divisive superstar was traded Wednesday evening in a four-team blockbuster that saw the Nets acquire him; the Houston Rockets receive Victor Oladipo, Dante Exum, Rodions Kurucs, four unprotected first-round picks and four first-round pick swaps; the Indiana Pacers pick up Caris LeVert and a second-round pick; and the Cleveland Cavaliers acquire Jarrett Allen and Taurean Prince.

You get all that?

It’s a complicated deal, to say the least, so don’t worry if you’ve missed all the fine details. What really matters is Harden got his wish to reunite with Kevin Durant in Brooklyn via a ridiculously oversized transaction.

And now that the deal has been made, the more important question -- as is the case with any big trade -- is who came out on top in this mega deal?

In order to answer, here’s how we’ve ranked the four teams involved in the exchange.

1. Indiana Pacers

If the Nets were going to acquire Harden, they were always going to have to include a third or fourth team in the deal to make sure they could team him up with Durant and Kyrie Irving due to his obscene $41.2 million salary for this season.

This meant that whoever those third or fourth teams were going to be would have an excellent opportunity to vulture in on the main deal between the Rockets and Nets and theoretically find a way to pick up good assets for minimal outgoing value in the process.

In the case of the Pacers, the deal they made was the simplest, but, ultimately, could be the most impactful both short- and long-term.

As the deal eventually worked out, one of the players Houston snagged from the Nets was talented young guard LeVert, whom they immediately flipped to the Pacers for former all-star Oladipo.

This was a great piece of business for Indiana for a couple of reasons. First of all, under new head coach and former Toronto Raptors assistant Nate Bjorkgren, the Pacers look like one of the best teams in the league thanks to the all-star level play of Malcolm Brogdon and the All-NBA-level that Domantas Sabonis is playing at to start the season.

Comparing the stats between Oladipo and LeVert is almost like looking at two mirror images of each other, and while LeVert will want to play on the ball more than Oladipo did, the two players are, essentially, the same productivity-wise with the main difference being the fact that bringing in LeVert could probably help with Indiana’s team roles.

Oladipo, before he got injured, was his team's undisputed star, but that’s a mantle that has since been passed to Sabonis, something that may have possibly caused friction as this season progressed had they kept the team as it was.

Now it looks like there’s a clear pecking order in place as LeVert doesn’t carry the clout nor the ego to disrupt what is a good situation for him with the Pacers.

Additionally, by bringing in LeVert and sending Oladipo away, Indiana is now under the luxury tax threshold, a big added bonus on top of the addition of a very good player.

Some darn fine work from Chad Buchanan.

2. Cleveland Cavaliers

Ranking at No. 2 is the other vulture in the deal.

The Cavaliers came away from this transaction with Allen and Prince, two high-level role players and, in Allen’s case, a guy with legitimate future star potential.

The Nets are likely going to regret trading Allen away. At just 22 years old, he’s already one of the top centres in the league and figures to only get better.

With Allen, the Cavaliers have a true building block from which to form lethal pick-and-roll partnerships with some of their young guards like Darius Garland and Collin Sexton.

Before they can get down to doing that, however, the Cavaliers need to figure out the logjam they have with all their bigs.

With the addition of Allen, Cleveland now has five big men on the roster with Andre Drummond, Kevin Love, JaVale McGee and Larry Nance Jr.

That’s too many, and before the trade deadline they’re going to have to find a landing spot for at least one or two of these guys — and one such potential place could be Toronto.

It’s no secret that the Raptors' centre production has left a lot to be desired to start the season, and with Drummond and McGee on expiring contracts there could be a trade to be made there.

In particular, Drummond would shore up the Raptors’ need for defensive rebounding in a big way and a deal could be made there without giving up Kyle Lowry or Pascal Siakam if he is still available by Feb. 5, when Aron Baynes will be eligible for dealing.

But even if the team that comes knocking isn't the Raptors, the Cavaliers are in a good spot because they have a surplus of assets that they should be able to use to improve themselves. And between that and acquiring a future stud like Allen, they deserve praise.

3. Brooklyn Nets

Oftentimes the team that get the best player in any trade is the clear winner, but even though Harden is a phenomenal player, the way Brooklyn went about acquiring him has to make you pause.

First off, the Nets aren’t all that stable at the moment as they’re dealing with drama from Kyrie Irving just deciding to take days off work and looking like he might be done -- for now -- with life as a professional athlete.

And so now you throw Harden, another big personality, into the mix and you have a recipe for true chaos if things start to go south.

There’s going to be nothing but pressure on rookie head coach Steve Nash to try to bring a team together without a true glue guy on the roster as they traded those types of players away, and there’s obvious concerns -- even if Irving does decide to return -- about how they’re going to share the ball, as well as which player(s) will have to sacrifice their own personal statistics for the good of the team.

There’s little denying just how great a player Harden is, and any issues with his present weight shouldn't cause too much unease as his arrival in a new environment will likely signal a rejuvenated level of effort. However, Harden became an MVP and scoring champ because he dominated the ball, pounding the air out of it in isolation situations, something that isn’t going to fly with Durant on the team.

Still, the potential for the new "Big 3" is immense and expectations are understandably sky high. This is a team that could have the Eastern Conference all but wrapped up by the end of February if everything clicks the way they want it to.

If the Nets actually become the Legion of Doom like they’re setting themselves up to be, one really has to wonder what the value of a play-in tournament spot in the East is. Playing for the right to get crushed by Brooklyn doesn’t sound like a lot of fun at all.

That’s only if Brooklyn can unlock its potential, though. With expectations comes pressure and in the Nets’ case the walls look to already be squeezing in on them as they once again have leveraged the entirety of their future on a star-studded trio to try to win.

With all the draft compensation they sent away, the Nets have yielded all of their first-round picks up to 2027 in an effort to win with Harden, Durant and Irving, and if they aren’t able to do it this is a team that will be heading back down the rabbit hole of obscurity once again.

Granted, this trio is much younger and closer to their primes than when Brooklyn opted to team up Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce with Deron Williams, but the comparison is very much there and history has a nasty way of repeating itself.

4. Houston Rockets

The draft-pick haul Houston got looks impressive on paper, and the idea of Oladipo pairing up with John Wall in its backcourt is very exciting, but the closer you look at what the Rockets did, the more faults you find in it all.

Rockets GM Rafael Stone was certainly under the gun to get a deal done with Harden fracturing his team’s locker room more and more by the day, but the final result makes it look as though he did his due diligence and then bailed on the better deal for his team.

A few hours before it was reported that Harden was heading to the Nets, a deal between the Rockets and Philadelphia 76ers was reported to be in the works that would see Ben Simmons heading Houston’s way.

If that is actually true, why didn’t Stone take that deal?

With all due respect to Oladipo, Simmons is a much better player and even though a star duo of Simmons and Wall would have left a lot to be desired from a shooting perspective, trying to score on those guys would've been incredibly difficult.

It also would’ve been fun to watch and, more importantly, could’ve helped Houston plan for the future better as Simmons is a legitimate building block.

Instead, the Rockets opted for a picks package, something that could very well work out in their favour. But if Brooklyn ends up meeting its potential, suddenly all those picks become far less valuable mid-to-late first-rounders.

The Rockets’ best bet with all those picks will be to do what Danny Ainge never did with his “war chest” and find a way to cash them in on a big trade for a big star down the road.

When/if that ever happens is anybody’s guess, though.

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