The Brooklyn Nets‘ blockbuster trade for James Harden has worked out very well for them so far this season. Harden is steadily putting up MVP numbers on a team that doesn’t need him to be the sole source of offense, and Brooklyn is sitting in second place in the East heading into the All-Star break, just a half game behind the Philadelphia 76ers.
For the Houston Rockets, despite still losing and likely staring down a rebuild, they were able to work out a three-team trade that landed them a young star in Victor Oladipo, who may or may not be around past his current contract that expires after this season. Regardless of how this trade looks in the long term, there’s always going to be what ifs surrounding the deal — what would’ve happened had the Rockets dealt Harden to the Sixers for Ben Simmons, or to the Boston Celtics for a package of Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart?
“I’m not a James Harden guy, and it’s not personal but you can’t win with that style,” Walker said during an appearance on the “All Things Covered” podcast with Patrick Peterson and Bryant McFadden. “He’s in a very unique situation with [Kevin] Durant and Kyrie [Irving], but it remains to be seen … I don’t think you can win with his style. Any time it takes a guy six, seven, eight dribbles to get to where he has to go, that’s a problem. It works today because it’s more of a pick-and-roll league, so he gets away with a lot of things now, but I would not leverage my future for James Harden.”
Walker certainly isn’t the first former player or NBA analyst to not love Harden’s style of ball-dominant play and foul hunting, but it can’t be denied what he’s doing in Brooklyn. While Harden’s scoring numbers have taken a small dip, due to the fact that he’s playing alongside two other All-Stars and NBA champions, he’s having the most efficient shooting year of his career.
Harden’s on the cusp of a 50/40/90 season, shooting 49.7 percent from the field, 42.2 percent from deep and 85 percent from the free-throw line. He’s also averaging a career high in assists (11.4) and rebounds (7.8), all while experiencing the lowest usage rate of his career since his final season with the Thunder back in 2012.
To Walker’s credit, though, he wasn’t shy when talking about Boston’s faults despite crediting the team for not going after Harden.
“Where Danny Ainge made a mistake is he let Gordon Hayward walk out the door without getting anything in return for him,” Walker said. “If you know you can’t pay him, you have to do a sign-and-trade and get a legitimate big. I think they should’ve went after Dwight Howard much harder, and you could’ve probably traded for Andre Drummond and added him to the group.”
He’s not wrong. While the Celtics have had an up-and-down season and haven’t looked like the team that made it to the Eastern Conference finals last year, Hayward is having the best season of his career. He’s putting up 21.5 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.9 assists, while shooting 48.7 percent from the field and 40.5 percent from deep as a member of the Charlotte Hornets. His play — as well as the performances from Terry Rozier and rookie LaMelo Ball — have made the Hornets, currently tied for sixth place in the East, one of the most exciting teams this season.
The Celtics, meanwhile, sit in fourth place, and after a three-game losing streak to three sub-.500 teams (at the time), Boston has turned it around with three consecutive wins. However, an 18-17 record is not what many had in mind for this team before the season started. While Walker may think Harden isn’t worth leveraging a team’s future, he sure has panned out incredibly well for the Nets so far.
There’s still plenty of basketball left to be played, but Brooklyn looks like the biggest threat in the East, while Boston looks like a fringe contender that still needs another piece to get back in the championship conversation.