Winners, losers from James Harden to Brooklyn blockbuster trade


The NBA drama never stops.

After months of knowing James Harden wanted a trade out of Houston but talks around the league moving at a glacial pace, the climate changed quickly in the last few days. Maybe it was Kyrie Irving being away from Brooklyn, maybe it was Harden’s postgame slamming of the Rockets, but this deal came together in just a couple of days.

It morphed into a blockbuster four-team trade — with the Pacers and Cavaliers jumping in — that breaks down this way:

• Brooklyn gets James Harden
• Houston gets Victor Oladipo, Dante Exum, and Rodions Kurucs; unprotected Brooklyn Nets first-round picks in 2022, 2024, and 2026; the 2022 Milwaukee Bucks first-round pick (via Cleveland); and unprotected Nets pick swaps in 2021, 2023, 2025, and 2027.
• Indiana gets Caris LeVert and a 2023 second-round pick from Houston.
• Cleveland gets Jarrett Allen and Taurean Prince.

Who won and who lost in the Harden trade? Let’s break it down.

Winner: James Harden

Harden got what he wanted. From the start, he wanted out of Houston and to play on a contender with his friend and former teammate Kevin Durant. That wish came true.

Will Harden be happy in Brooklyn? How long will it take to play himself into shape? Will he just blend in around Williamsburg with the other bearded hipsters? There’s a lot of questions to answer, but Harden wins because he got what he wanted.

Now we’ll see what he does with it.

Winner: the Brooklyn Nets offense

Talent wins out in the NBA.

We can debate the fit of three isolation heavy players in Harden, Irving, and Durant — this is where you can insert your “there’s only one basketball” joke. We can debate whether Harden is willing to make the sacrifices necessary to win a championship (Durant and Irving have both done that, even if neither seemed particularly happy about it).

But Brooklyn now has three elite offensive players, plus they have a sharpshooter in Joe Harris to help space the floor. They have three stars that may do the most damage in isolation but who can play off the ball. They should be able to have at least one of the game’s great scorers on the court for all 48 minutes.

Mike D’Antoni — a Nets assistant coach — believes elite talent figures out how to play together, how to make it work. If that’s true, Brooklyn will have the best offense in the NBA. And that makes them a threat to win it all.

Loser: Brooklyn Nets defense

The Brooklyn Nets defense isn’t good right now — it’s been 23rd in the league over the past eight games (stats via Cleaning the Glass) — and they just sent out their best defender and rim protector in Allen. Brooklyn is already a bottom 10 defensive rebounding team, and they just shipped out their best rebounder in Allen.

DeAndre Jordan, when healthy enough to play, is not making up that difference.

Effort can cover some of these defensive issues in the regular season. Durant is a good defender; Irving showed more effort on that end of the floor this season (until he went MIA). But there are not many good defenders, not a lot of depth anymore on this roster (especially after Spencer Dinwiddie‘s injury).

Even if Brooklyn’s offense comes together with its three superstars, will the defense be good enough to win the East (let alone beat the Lakers or whoever comes out of the West)? I’m not convinced it is. If the Nets defense isn’t good enough, they just gave up a lot of draft picks to get marginally better.

Loser: Steve Nash

Nash the player was a relatively ego-less superstar.

These Nets? Harden has had a franchise wrapped around his little finger in Houston for eight years, then just forced his way out the door. The Nets aren’t totally sure where Kyrie Irving is or when he is coming back. Durant has run hot and cold with coaches, teammates, front offices, and fans over the years.

Do you want the job of getting all of them to pull the rope in the same direction?

Winner: The other Rockets’ players

Think they were a little sick of Harden’s pouting, trade-me antics? This is DeMarcus Cousins after Tuesday’s game (via Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle):

“The disrespect started way before any interview,” Cousins said [referring to what Harden said about the Rockets after their latest loss to the Lakers. “Just the approach to training camp, showing up the way he did, his antics off the court, the disrespect started way before. This isn’t something that all of a sudden happened last night.

“It’s a way about having business. He can feel however he wants to feel about the organization, whatever his past situation is. The other 14 guys in the locker room have done nothing to him. For us to be on the receiving end of some of the disrespectful comments and the antics, it is completely unfair to us. We showed up to work. It’s completely unfair to the rest of the guys in the locker room.”

John Wall added:

“When you have certain guys in the mix who don’t want to buy in, all as one, it’s going to be hard to do anything special, to do anything good as a basketball team… We can’t dwell down on it because it’s only been nine games. Come on man, you want to jump off a cliff after nine games?”

The rest of the Rockets will tell Harden not to let the door hit his a** on the way out the door.

Winner: Houston Rockets with the draft picks

Houston wanted a cargo ship full of draft picks in a Harden trade, and they got them. This is a haul worthy of trading away an MVP. Brooklyn wants to win now and pushed nearly every tradable asset into the pile to make this deal happen.

The 2022 picks — both the Brooklyn and Milwaukee first rounders — are likely late in the first round. But by 2024, we will see if this trade worked out for Brooklyn, if this trio aged well (and all of them decided to stay in Brooklyn) because if they didn’t, those last couple of picks could be very good ones.

By the summer of 2026, Durant will be 37 and Harden will be 35. If they are with the Nets still, how good will they be? Those picks down the line could be great ones for Houston.

Loser: Houston Rockets with the players they picked up

Houston was never high on Caris LeVert and it showed — rather than bring him in, the Rockets found a third team to take him on.


LeVert just averaged 31 points and nine rebounds a game in the three games both Durant and Irving missed in the past week. He’s no Harden — he’s not efficient like you need a No. 1 option to be — but he is a volume scorer who can get buckets, play an important role on a team, and is under contract for two more seasons after this one at a reasonable number ($36.3 million total for those seasons).

Oladipo is a former All-NBA player but has not returned to that form since his ruptured quadriceps tendon, he’s not scoring a lot more points and is barely more efficient than LeVert (Oladipo is not finishing well at the rim this season), plus he is a couple of years older. In addition, Oladipo is a free agent next offseason and is looking for a big contract. Houston can just let him walk, but why not just keep LeVert?

Houston could have gotten more in shipping out Jarrett Allen as part of this deal. Dante Exum is a good rotation player and defender when healthy, but he’s not moving the needle.

Winner: The Indiana Pacers

Oladipo is a free agent who reportedly asked for a trade — he had one foot out the door in Indiana.

The Pacers land a solid scoring wing — not an efficient guy, more of a volume scorer, but he can get you buckets — who is under a very reasonable contract for two more seasons after this one.

Straight up right now the Pacers may have gotten the better player, and they control his rights for longer. Whether this is a big win depends on how far you believe Oladipo can ultimately bounce back, how close he can get to his All-NBA self. But the Pacers did well and landed someone who can plug and play next to Malcolm Brogdon right now.

UPDATE: Pistons reportedly agree to massive deal to make Monty Williams new coach

2023 NBA Playoffs - Phoenix Suns v Denver Nuggets
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

UPDATE: The Detroit Pistons — specifically team owner Tom Gores — got their guy.

The Pistons backed up the Brinks truck and agreed to terms with former Suns coach Monty Williams to be their next head coach, something first reported by Shams Charania of The Athletic and confirmed by Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports, among others.

It will be interesting to see how much power Williams will have over player personnel moves in addition to being the coach. Williams reportedly was planning to take a year off from coaching after being let go by the Suns, but he got an offer he could not refuse.

Gores had interviewed the other top candidates, Charles Lee and Kevin Ollie, and decided to make one more big run at Williams before giving one of the first-timers the job. Pistons GM Troy Weaver and Williams worked together back in Oklahoma City. Williams is a defensive first coach known for discipline, and those things were on the top of the Pistons’ coaching wish list.

Williams is one of the most respected coaches around the league, but he did have clashes with players on the roster in Phoenix, most prominently Deandre Ayton. The chemistry in Phoenix that looked so good when Williams took the Suns to the Finals seemed much more fractured by the end. New owner Mat Ishbia reportedly never warmed to Williams, and that combined with the second-round exit for a team with Kevin Durant and Devin Booker was enough to make the change.

Now Williams has a new home — and a massive payday.


Not long after Dwane Casey left the bench and moved into the Pistons’ front office, the Pistons called Monty Williams and tried to make a big money offer to entice him to come, something reported at the time by Marc Stein. Buzz grew around the league that Williams — who was let go by the Suns after they fell in the second round — was going to take a little time off from coaching before jumping back into the grind.

The Pistons have gone through their coaching search — reportedly with former Bucks’ assistant Charles Lee and former UConn coach Kevin Ollie as the frontrunners — but before picking one of them the Pistons are going to make one more run at Williams, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Pistons are preparing to offer Williams in the range of $10 million per year, league sources said, which would put him among the league’s highest-paid coaches. Detroit has been hopeful over the past several weeks that Williams would consider accepting the job, sources added…

If Williams declines the proposal, Lee, a Bucks assistant since 2018, is expected to emerge as the likely choice, league sources said.

This report was echoed by Stein, who added details.

The offers have been consistently estimated to me at $50 million over five years or even $60 million over six years. Sources say that two of the Pistons’ previously reported finalists for the post — Bucks associate head coach Charles Lee and former UConn coach Kevin Ollie — were only summoned to meet face-to-face with Pistons owner Tom Gores for a second time after Williams turned them down the first time.

The phrasing from Charania — “Detroit has been hopeful… that Williams would consider accepting the job” — is no accident, that’s a sign of what they expect to happen.

If you were the owner/PR staff of a struggling team — one that the lottery gods just knocked down to fifth in the upcoming NBA Draft — and you were about to hire a deserving but not well-known coach to lead your franchise, leaking about the big offer you made to the big name coach is smart spin. If Williams takes the money, the Pistons land a top-flight coach. If Williams says “no thanks” then you can tell the fan base you tried.

The Pistons entered last season hoping to make a run to the play-in, but those hopes were dashed when Cade Cunningham was injured a dozen games into the season and missed the rest of it. With Cunningham back along with Jaden Ivey, Jalen Duren, Isaiah Stewart, Saddiq Bey, Bojan Bogdanovic and the No. 5 pick, expectations of wins will greet whoever is the new coach.

New York Knicks part ways with GM Scott Perry

New York Knicks Introduce New Signees
Dustin Satloff/Getty Images

When Scotty Perry came on board with the Knicks, they felt like chaos personified off the court, and on the court their best players were Kristaps Porzingis and Tim Hardaway Jr.

That era seems like another lifetime ago. Perry, first with former team president Steve Mills and then with the next president Leon Rose, brought professionalism and stability to the New York Knicks not really known in the James Dolan era. The Knicks may not yet be contenders, but they have built a 47-win team behind Jalen Brunson with 11 first-round picks in the next seven years (to use or trade for a star). The Knicks are well-positioned for the future and Knicks fans are as optimistic as they have been in decades.

Which is why it’s news that Perry and the Knicks are parting ways, something reported by multiple sources, including Ian Begley at Perry’s contract was up.

It will be interesting to see where the Knicks go from here. Former Timberwolves president Gersson Rosas was added as an executive last season. The Knicks could give Rosas the full-time position or promote another front office member, such as assistant general manager (pro scouting) Frank Zanin or assistant general manager (college scouting) Walt Perrin. Brock Aller already has a vice president title (Vice President, Basketball and Strategic Planning), so it would be an odd transition for him to move to general manager.

Perry should have interest around the NBA should he want to return to a front office job. He will have options.

New York heads into the offseason poised to chase a star free agent, should the right one become available. They also have a clean cap sheet without bad contracts weighing them down, which anchored the Knicks in the standings for years.

Perry deserves some of the credit for that.

PBT Podcast: NBA Finals preview, plus Nurse to Philly, and Bucks as opera


The NBA Finals are here and it’s not the matchup anybody predicted: The Denver Nuggets vs. the Miami Heat.

In this latest PBT Extra podcast, Kurt Helin and Corey Robinson break down that Finals matchup and if the Heat have any chance of slowing down Nikola Jokić. First the pair talk the Heat’s Game 7 win over the Boston Celtics and what this says for the future of the Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown era in Boston.

After the Finals, in Corey’s Jukebox, Corey compares the Bucks and the recent hiring of Adrian Griffin as the team’s head coach to the famed Mozart opera Don Giovanni — and that’s not a complement to Milwaukee.

Then the duo get into the news around the NBA: What does Bob Myers leaving mean for the Warriors? Is Nick Nurse a good hire in Philadelphia? And what the heck is Eric Lewis thinking?

You can watch the video of some of the podcast above or listen to the entire podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google Play, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please feel free to email us at

Five things to watch in Heat vs. Nuggets NBA Finals (with betting tips)


Nobody had this Finals matchup on their bingo card (well, except ESPN’s Israel Gutierrez, who called this matchup before the season).

The Denver Nuggets were the best team in the West all season and kept improving as Jamal Murray got healthier and gained more confidence in his surgically repaired knee. Still, they entered the playoff facing doubts because we hadn’t seen them play at this level in the postseason since the bubble. The Nuggets answered all the questions.

Miami barely made the playoffs at all, having to come from behind in the fourth quarter of the last play-in game to beat the Bulls. But otherworldly play from Jimmy Butler, players like Caleb Martin stepping up, and a relentlessness no team in the East could match, sees them in the Finals after coming one shot short of this mark last season.

Who will hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy?

Here are four things worth watching, plus some betting advice from Vaughn Dalzell of NBC Sports Edge.

1) What is Miami’s defensive plan against Nikola Jokić?

Nobody has a good answer for stopping — or often even slowing — Nikola Jokić.

It’s been the case for three years now, but especially in these playoffs. The Los Angeles Lakers had the best defense in the NBA after the All-Star break and the best defense through the first two rounds of the playoffs, all anchored by an elite defender in Anthony Davis. Jokić averaged a triple-double of 27.8 points, 14.5 rebounds and 11.8 assists a game against them and the Nuggets torched them.

The challenge in guarding Jokić is nobody can do it all that well one-on-one, but the second the help comes — if it comes from where he can see it in particular — he carves a team apart with his elite passing skills.

Miami’s best option to defend Jokić — and what they did in the team’s regular season matchups — is to put Bam Adebayo on him and not send much help. Adebayo is not stopping Jokić one-on-one, but he’s strong and agile enough to make him work for it. Plus, if Jokić is primarily a scorer the Nuggets’ offense is less dangerous — if he scores 35+ points but with five assists the Heat can win; if he has 25 points but 12 assists the Nuggets win handily.

That strategy comes with risks, primarily foul trouble for Adebayo, but also it removes him as a roaming help defender (one of his strengths). The Lakers started with Davis on Jokić but had relative success with others taking the primary job — Rui Hachimura, LeBron James — which allowed Davis to double and help on others. Who on the Heat can take on that assignment? Caleb Martin or Jimmy Butler? Too small. Maybe Cody Zeller or Haywood Highsmith off the bench, but the Heat hurt their offense with those two out there, and neither is exactly an elite defender.

Expect heavy doses of Adebayo, with the Heat strategy being to front the post and make passes into the Joker difficult, and then live with him as a scorer but try not to let him get rolling as a passer. When Jokić is in pick-and-roll actions with Jamal Murray or on the move, expect a team defense to collapse on him.

That all sounds good, but Jokić figures defenses out, which brings us to how the Heat flummoxed the Celtics.

2) Can Denver solve Miami’s Zone?

Miami ran more zone than any team in the NBA this season (in fact, more zone than any team in more than a decade). It works for them because it’s not a conventional zone, they have active defenders out top who push out high, then they have an elite defensive decision-maker and rim protector in the back with Adebayo. More than anything, the Heat play zone with the intensity of man-to-man (something few teams do at any level).

Denver had an impressive 121 offensive rating against zone defenses this season, according to the NBA tracking data at Second Spectrum (for comparison, the Kings had the best offense in the NBA this season at 119.4). The Nuggets have had the best offense against a zone defense in the regular season and playoffs.

One key way to beat a zone is to get the ball to a good passer in the soft middle of the zone, around the free throw line — the Nuggets have Jokić. Denver is also loaded with shooters who can and will knock down shots over the top of the zone (don’t expect a Celtics-like regression in shooting).

Miami will run some zone as a change-up, but it won’t work as a steady diet as it did against Boston.

3) Aaron Gordon on Jimmy Butler

Jimmy Butler is a tough cover because he is too strong for guards to stop from getting to his spots but too quick for most forwards to stay in front of.

Denver will bet Aaron Gordon is quick enough to at least give Butler trouble (he’s done well these playoffs against Kevin Durant and LeBron this postseason). Gordon has the advantage that Butler is not a natural 3-point shooter, so he doesn’t have to play up incredibly high on him, and Gordon is strong enough to handle Butler’s physicality.

Butler is going to get his, but if Gordon can make him work for it, be physical, and start to take his legs out from under him a little, it’s a huge advantage for Denver.

4) Vaughn Dalzell’s betting recommendations

Game 1 Over Trend: Game 1’s are usually strong bets for the Over. All four Game 1’s of the second round went Over the opening total and both of the Conference Finals went Over the total in this postseason, so Game 1’s are on a 6-0 run to the Over. In the NBA Finals, four of the last five Game 1’s went for 227 or more points. Denver averages 122.0 points per game in three Game 1’s during the postseason and Miami averages 120.0 points per game in three Game 1’s. The total opened at 218.5 and is up to 219.5, so the Over looks like a solid bet.

Game 1 Favorites of -5.5 or More: Since the start of the 2013 postseason, NBA Finals favorites of -5.5 or more points have gone 14-3 on the ML and 12-4-1 ATS. Denver opens as a -8.5 point favorite. Home teams are on a 5-0 ML streak and 4-1 ATS in Game 1’s with an average margin of 14.0 points per victory. The Nuggets’ spread has a lot of value historically, despite -8.5 being such a large number.

(Check out more from Dalzell and the team at NBC Sports Edge.)

5) Wild card role players: Martin and Vincent, or is it Michael Porter Jr.

Role players always make a difference in the Finals.

Miami needs that to happen to have a chance. Caleb Martin was almost the Eastern Conference Finals MVP averaging more than 17 points a game and will have to play at that level again. How much Gabe Vincent meant to this team was obvious in Game 5 against the Celtics when he was out. Max Strus and Duncan Robinson also will be critical — and need to defend well enough to stay on the court — if the Heat are going to make a run.

For the Nuggets, Michael Porter Jr. is a walking matchup nightmare at 6’10” and with the ability to get red hot from 3. Teams tend to put a guard on him — and Miami likes to play small — and Porter Jr. just knocks down shots over the top of them. He could win Denver a game this series just with his shot.

Prediction: Nuggets in 5. This is not a knock on an impressive Miami team and run to the Finals, they earned their way here. Denver is just this good. LeBron said this was the best team he has played against since coming to Los Angeles, and that should tell you all you need to know. The Finals will be a coronation for Jokić.