Answering the massive questions driving this James Harden trade – ESPN

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  • Zach LoweESPN Senior Writer

In the end, the Houston Rockets didn’t get the blue-chip young player they boasted they would receive in return for James Harden — the second-greatest player in franchise history, behind only Hakeem Olajuwon, and one of the league’s all-time best scorers.

Victor Oladipo, acquired in exchange for Caris LeVert as part of this monstrosity, does not quite qualify. Oladipo is almost 29, two years and one major leg injury removed from his only All-NBA season. He has looked more like his old self this season; he is getting to the rim at a pre-injury level. But he also is eligible for free agency this summer, when there will be oodles more cap space than available stars. It’s not out of the realm of possibility the Rockets will have to pay Oladipo the maximum salary, or something close, to retain him — if they want to when the alternative is potential cap space.

LeVert doesn’t have Oladipo’s track record, and he was off to a blah shooting start as a supporting actor in the most predictable soap opera in basketball. But he is more than two years younger than Oladipo and has shown — including during the bubble — that he might be ready for a larger scoring role. He is on a decent contract for three seasons — one that would have carried positive trade value for the Rockets had they decided to flip LeVert later on.

Houston isn’t wrong to bet Oladipo will be better for the next three seasons. I still might rather have LeVert. For the Indiana Pacers, nabbing LeVert in exchange for a player who was likely leaving anyway is a huge win. Oladipo’s future with Indiana has been murky, to say the least, since talks about a potential extension went nowhere before last season. LeVert has a broadly similar skill set to that of Oladipo and fits alongside Malcolm Brogdon, Domantas Sabonis, and Myles Turner.

There are two questions that really matter about the Harden megadeal:

• Did Houston get enough?

• Did the Brooklyn Nets improve their championship odds enough to justify the massive pile of draft assets they forked over: three unprotected first-round picks and four unprotected swaps, a bounty that sustains through 2027 — when Harden, Kevin Durant, and Kyrie Irving will be ancient (by NBA standards) or retired?

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