The Journal Gazette
Thursday, January 14, 2021 1:00 am

Oladipo to Rockets in Harden deal

Pacers get LeVert in Nets' trade for superstar

Associated Press

James Harden is heading to Brooklyn, joining old teammate Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to give the Nets a potent trio of the some of the NBA's highest scorers.

Victor Oladipo will replace him in Houston, as the Pacers dealt him as part of a four-team deal that also involves Cleveland, getting Caris LeVert from Brooklyn.

Oladipo is averaging 20 points in 33.3 minutes per game, with 5.7 rebounds and 4.2 assists in nine games. He is shooting 42.1% from the field. LeVert is averaging 18.5 points in 27.8 minutes per game, with 4.3 rebounds and 6 assists in 12 games. He is shooting 43.5% from the field.

 Once the trade is official, the Nets will be able to trot out a lineup of three players capable of scoring 25 or more points on any night in a collection of firepower to rival any Big Three in recent years.

They are loading up for a title run with three of the highest-paid players in the league. All are under contract through 2022-23, with Harden and Durant both set to earn more than $40 million in each of the next two seasons.

In the meantime, the Nets were short-handed for their game against the New York Knicks, where coach Steve Nash declined to discuss Harden but did confirm that the players the Nets were trading were not in the building.

Off to a 6-6 start in his rookie season, now the former point guard and two-time league MVP will have to mold an offense that keeps the ball moving with three players worthy of having it in their hands.

“It's a simple game but it becomes complicated when you put different personalities and players on the floor,” Nash said. “Our group's done a really good job being unselfish this year and trying to move the ball and work together so I've been proud of that.” 

The blockbuster deal provides a needed boost amid a period of drama for both franchises. It was struck less than 24 hours after Harden seemed to deliver a farewell address of sorts following the Rockets' loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night, and just before Irving was set to miss a fifth straight game during a personal absence from the Nets.

At least four draft picks and additional pick swaps are also part of the deal. The Cavaliers will get Jarrett Allen and Taurean Prince from the Nets in the deal, a person familiar with the trade told the AP.

Harden, who has cycled through Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook as teammates in recent seasons, didn't think much of the roster the Rockets had around him this season.

“We're just not good enough. ... I love this city. I literally have done everything that I can,” Harden said Tuesday night. “I mean, this situation is crazy. It's something that I don't think can be fixed.”

It couldn't, and now he's gone.

Durant is averaging 29.9 points in his first season back from surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles tendon, and Irving was scoring 27.1 per game before leaving the team last week. Harden, who appears to be out of shape after joining the Rockets after training camp began, is averaging 24.8 this season after three straight seasons above 30, culminating in MVP honors in 2018.

In other news, contact tracing issues involving the Phoenix Suns and Washington Wizards forced the NBA to postpone three more games Wednesday, raising the leaguewide total from this week alone to eight.

The NBA also revealed Wednesday that 16 players – by far the most in a one-week period since training camps started – returned positive COVID-19 tests between Jan. 6 and Tuesday. With 497 players tested, that reflects a positivity rate of 3.2%.

Phoenix's home game Wednesday against Atlanta was called off, as was the Suns' home game with Golden State on Friday. Also called: Friday's game where the Wizards would have gone to Detroit. The reason in all three cases was the same, that the Suns and Wizards wouldn't have enough players cleared to participate.

“Obviously, it's not the typical NBA season that we're all accustomed to,” Charlotte coach James Borrego said Wednesday. “But we'll get through it.”

That Suns-Hawks game was the third on Wednesday's schedule to be called, joining Utah at Washington and Orlando at Boston. It also marks the second consecutive time that a team ran into issues after playing in Washington; the Miami Heat lost eight players to COVID-related issues following their road game against the Wizards on Saturday.

Also not playing Wednesday: Zion Williamson, ruled out by the New Orleans Pelicans for their game at the Los Angeles Clippers because of the league's health and safety protocols. In his case, Pelicans coach Stan Van Gundy said, the issue was an inconclusive test.

“He's not with us here at the game tonight,” Van Gundy said. “He's back in his hotel room and we'll know more as further results come back.”

Contact-tracing issues can also be triggered when a player is found to have been, or possibly have been, exposed to someone who is positive for COVID-19. That has been the issue for a number of players in recent days, excluding the 16 new positives.

In the previous five weeks combined, only 15 players tested positive. But even the current week's rate is well below what the league dealt with going into training camps, when 48 players tested positive in the week before practices could formally begin leaguewide.

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