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One year later, Rockets still haven’t fully benefitted from the James Harden trade

It’s been an interesting year for the Rockets since dealing James Harden.

Brooklyn Nets v Houston Rockets Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

On this day a year ago, the Houston Rockets officially smashed the reset button and sent franchise cornerstone James Harden to the Brooklyn Nets in a four-team trade.

At the time, the Rockets showed a desire to focus on the future while also trying to build some sense of a competitive team in the present by turning an original three-team trade into a four-team deal by bringing in Victor Oladipo for Caris LeVert and a second-round pick.

The Pacers’ inclusion in the trade has only seemed to prolong their eventual self-discovery of the need to rebuild. Like the Rockets, the Pacers saw an opportunity to remain competitive for a longer period of time, opting to deal Oladipo’s expiring contract for LeVert’s three-year contract and the hope that he could bring the team to new heights. LeVert has been an upgrade over Oladipo, averaging over 19 points per game in a Pacers uniform, but the team is moving backwards. With Indiana sitting at 15-27 and 13th in the Eastern Conference, the team is expected to be one of the biggest sellers at this year’s trade deadline with Myles Turner as the prime name on the block. It’s only a matter of time before the Pacers find themselves in a Rockets-like rebuild.

Of the four teams that participated in the deal, only the Brooklyn Nets have qualified for the playoffs, winning just one playoff series last season before losing to the Milwaukee Bucks in seven games in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. And that competitive peak window could close shut after this year with Harden expected to test free agency in the summer. This trade for them was a full all-in push for these two seasons, and the team has yet to experience the full potential of those dividends in the first year of the deal. If Harden opts to stay in Brooklyn following the season, it gives the team more of an opportunity to succeed. However, one might question if Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Harden can win a title as they continue to get older with little future tradeable assets to help upgrade the team.

All of those assets went to the Rockets in this deal, and the team has yet to truly benefit off of it. When Rafael Stone signed off on this trade, the primary goal was not to benefit within the first year; it was to have the long term game in mind. The first of three Nets unprotected draft picks is set to convey this year and the Rockets have potential to build around Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr.

In fact, one might argue that the Rockets don’t make the KPJ trade without including the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Harden deal.

The Cavs acquired Taurean Prince from the Nets, which prompted the outburst from Porter Jr. that eventually saw him dealt to the Rockets for a minimal second-round draft pick.

The trade also sunk the Rockets to the bottom of the standings, which allowed the team to position itself to take Green with the No. 2 pick. In just 28 games this season, Green has averaged 15.8 points per game and is displaying All-Star potential in the years to come.

While the Rockets didn’t acquire any of their current building blocks from this trade, this deal allowed them to make other trades to acquire different assets. Milwaukee’s 2022 first-round pick was sent back to the Bucks at the trade deadline last year in a trade that centered around P.J. Tucker. In the deal, the Rockets also agreed to a pick swap in the 2021 NBA Draft that allowed them to select Josh Christopher, who has been one of the team’s most impressive prospects.

Porter Jr., Green and Christopher are amongst a gaggle of half-baked players who are beginning to dip their toes in the NBA waters, which has led to a lack of success in the standings thus far. Since the trade, the Rockets are 26-80, the worst record in the league during that span. However, as these players begin to cook and build chemistry together, the record will improve and then they will have an excess of high Houston picks that will build the team’s foundation and ancillary picks that will make the team whole.

If the Rockets become the winners of this trade, we really won’t know until all of these picks play out, which won’t happen until 2027! It’s possible that someone involved in this trade hasn’t even seen a high school classroom yet. And it will make the first year of this trade totally irrelevant.