Putting the James Harden Trade into Context
When the Rockets traded Harden for control of the Nets draft they only landed three first-round picks. While those are unprotected, which makes them far more valuable, the real hope was for the Nets pick swaps in 2025 and 2027 to be high-value draft picks.
Remember, a pick swap can have no value, you’re worse than the other team, minimal value, you’re close in the draft, or incredible value, you’re way better than the team you’re swapping with. Does Harden moving on from the Nets maximize them being one of the worst teams in the league come 2025?
How James Harden Leaves Matters
The first question is how does Harden leave? If he leaves through trade then the Nets will acquire assets and likely an impact player. If the impact player is around the age of 30 and not a bonafide superstar then there’s a good chance he won’t be an impact player in 2025.
However, if Harden is moved for a player like Ben Simmons, as has been rumored, then the Nets will have an impact player still in their prime in 2027. Would a team built around Simmons with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving be a championship favorite in 2027? Probably not, but that’s hardly the point. Would that team be a playoff team? Probably yes.
What the Rockets Were Betting Against
The Rockets took the James Harden deal from the Nets with an understanding of the NBA’s salary cap, max contract structure, and aging curves. Kevin Durant inked an extension with the Nets this offseason that will see him make $53.2 million in 2025-26 in his age 37 season. Kyrie Irving will turn 30 this March and could land a massive extension that pays him similarly into his age 34 season. James Harden has the chance to opt into the final year of his deal and sign a four-year $223 million extension this offseason. That deal could see Harden earn around $60 million in 2026-27 when he’ll be 37.
The bet that the Rockets made was that at around 2025 the Nets big-three would be in decline and expensive. Their high salaries and declining production would make it difficult to move them, and without draft assets to fill out the rotation the team would fade into oblivion. It was a novel and compelling bet to make, but Harden getting moved would throw a wrench into those plans.