The Kyrie Irving trade isn’t a massive win for the Rockets
When the news broke that Kyrie Irving had been traded, there was a brief moment of elation for Rockets fans, but with continued reflection, I don't think it moves the needle much. The Nets are probably about as good as they were before and now have more players under contract passed this season and an additional first-round pick.
The Rockets' plan all along was to bank on the Nets' core staying together, getting hugely expensive, and aging out of being impact players. While moving off of Kyrie and Harden limits the Nets’ ceiling, the Nets have made moves to maintain a stable floor. Even if Durant is traded, the return is likely to be so massive that the Nets should still be a solid team.
At this juncture, the Rockets’ best hope for securing multiple top-10 picks from the Nets is that they decide to do a full-on rebuild through other teams’ first-round picks. I doubt they’ll take that route, but if they do decide to have a fire sale, the combined return for Durant, Joe Harris, Patty Mills, Finney-Smith, Dinwiddie, O’Neale, Ben Simmons, and Nic Claxton would be massive.
It’s safe to say the Nets didn’t win the James Harden trade, but it’s still extremely tenuous to say the Rockets pulled off a heist. The Rockets’ strategy in the trade was to bet against a certain core’s aging curve and the roster constraints their massive salaries would create, but now that core is gone.
Kyrie Irving’s departure might feel like vindication for Rockets fans, but the Nets not being a championship contender doesn’t actually matter. What does matter, and has always mattered, is will the Nets be one of the worst teams in the NBA from 2025 through 2027. It remains a distinct possibility, but it looks less likely than it did in January 2021. The Nets trading Kyrie now and not losing him for nothing in the summer does more harm than help to the Rockets’ dreams of landing top-five picks via the James Harden trade.