By: Robert Bishop
Back again, and on Wednesday afternoon, the Houston Rockets finally shipped disgruntled star James Harden out of town in what evolved into a four-team, blockbuster trade. Houston granted Harden’s wish to join the Brooklyn Nets, but not without Brooklyn gutting its roster and future cache of first-round picks in the process. Now, the Nets have jumped to being, if not the best, at least the most exciting team in the Eastern Conference as Harden joins a roster built exclusively around its trio of All-Stars.
Harden, Kevin Durant, and Kyrie Irving make a dynamic trio, but the Nets lack anything resembling depth. Brooklyn will also face the difficult task of forming a functioning, cohesive offense around three singular, ball-dominant talents. Durant has shown the ability to adapt in the past with the Warriors. Irving and Harden, not so much. There’s tremendous upside for the Nets this season. There’s also the distinct possibility this move spectacularly backfires on the franchise.
Elsewhere in the deal, replacing Harden in Houston’s backcourt is guard Victor Oladipo, formerly of the Pacers. Oladipo joining the Rockets keeps the franchise competitive, and he’ll likely shine alongside John Wall in Houston’s backcourt. However, the jewel of Houston’s haul in the trade was a whopping four first-round picks and the option for multiple first-round swaps. It’s a colossal, potential franchise-altering haul of future assets for the Rockets.
Indiana replaces Oladipo, a free agent at the end of the season, with Caris LeVert. With the Nets, LeVert has emerged as a viable go-to offensive player. He’ll likely be looking at a reduced role with the Pacers, but there is every reason to think he’ll continue adding to his game. The Pacers are quietly building a roster capable of competing with the best teams in the East, and Indiana’s place as a personal League Pass go-to is now cemented with LeVert in town.
Rounding out the deal, the Cleveland Cavaliers, acting merely as facilitators to make the salaries work, added to the madness. Big man Jarrett Allen and win Taurean Price are heading to the Cavaliers. Though both are likely going to be eased into things within the team’s crowded frontcourt rotation, Allen and Prince are interesting pieces for Cleveland. Both could prove valuable role players in the long-term alongside Darius Garland and Collin Sexton’s backcourt tandem.
Saturday’s NFL action opens with a showdown between Green Bay’s high-octane, efficient offense and Los Angeles’s stifling, disruptive defense. L.A.’s chances in this game will likely come down to the health of quarterback Jared Goff (thumb), who struggled to play through injury a week ago. The Packers, even against L.A.’s elite D, will put points on the board. The pressure will be on Goff, or potentially back-up John Wolford, to keep pace.
On Saturday night, in the first of three potential shootouts this weekend, the Baltimore Ravens travel to face the Buffalo Bills. Buffalo’s defense is an ideal match-up for Baltimore’s offense given Buffalo’s difficulty tackling, and the Ravens running game will likely generate plenty of yardage. However, Baltimore’s defense will also be tasked with slowing the Stefon Diggs-led receiving corps of the Bills. The Ravens traditionally utilize a man-coverage scheme, setting Diggs and company up for huge days. This should be a fun one.
Another likely fun AFC match-up is on Sunday afternoon as the Cleveland Browns face the Kansas City Chiefs. This game will be all about the offenses, with Baker Mayfield, who emerged played like an MVP candidate during the second half of the season, looking to out-duel Patrick Mahomes, a former MVP. Kansas City’s defense has struggled against the run all season, putting Cleveland in a position to challenge for the upset. Also working in favor of the Browns is the return of star cornerback Denzel Ward, who will be tasked with slowing Tyreek Hill. Kansas City remains a justifiable favorite, but the Browns have the pieces in place to surprise. Rounding out Sunday’s action is a clash of the elders, as Tom Brady and Drew Brees go head-to-head for the third time this season. Tampa Bay’s offense has been on a tear of late, and the Bucs will look to keep it going against a solid though unspectacular Saints defense. New Orleans has bested the Bucs twice this season, but the Saints are ill-equipped to win a shootout. It will be up to the team’s defense to slow Brady and company. The higher scoring this Sunday night tilt becomes, the better the odds are Brady and the Buccaneers coming out on top.