Rockets make the best out of a bad situation by trading Harden

It's time for the Rockets to rebuild. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta released an official statement regarding James Harden being traded to the Brooklyn Nets as part of a complicated four-team deal.

“On behalf of the entire Rockets organization and the City of Houston. I'd like to thank James Harden for an amazing eight-plus seasons in a Rockets uniform. James has provided us with so many great memories as we've watched him grow from Sixth Man of the Year to a perennial All-Star and MVP. My family and I also want to thank James for his many off the court contributions, including charitable donations and multiple annual community events. We wish James the best of luck and will always be grateful for the memories." Fertitta said.

In a post-game press conference earlier this week, Harden was brutally honest. He said he didn't believe that this Rockets' roster was talented enough to bring an NBA title to Houston. It's tough to argue that after seeing the Rockets' pair of blow-out losses to Western Conference rival Los Angeles Lakers. Harden isn't getting any younger, and the Brooklyn Nets situation presents him a perfect opportunity for a championship. Fifteen games into the season, Kevin Durant and the Brooklyn Nets realize that Kyrie Irving is an unreliable contributor, and bringing in Harden to take over as the No. 2 star was the best possible trade option.

As for the Rockets

The Houston Rockets were the engine that drove the multi-team trade that sent James Harden to Brooklyn. In return the Rockets received Caris Levert, Rodions Kurucs, three unprotected first round picks (2022, 2024, and 2026), and the right to exchange first round picks with the Nets in 2021, 2023, 2025, and 2027.

The Rockets also acquired Danté Exum and Milwaukee's first-round pick in 2022 from the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Rockets general manager Rafael Stone executed his first major trade in flawless fashion. Although Rockets fans are trashing Harden on his way out, this was the best deal that the Rockets could have received in exchange for the disgruntled Beard.

It is tough to understand why anyone would have a sour taste in their mouth about Harden leaving. It is clear that Harden did not mean to bad mouth the Rockets.

“For me, knowing him, I don't think he meant it as far as to really disrespect us. I think he just wanted a different situation. He's shown that and he also said it. He wanted his way out. And he got it," Rockets guard Eric Gordon said at the Rockets Thursday morning shoot around.

This trade was a win for Rafael Stone, and he now has the blueprint to build a winning franchise for the coming decade. Over the past nine seasons, the Houston Rockets have followed through on every acquisition that Harden requested (Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, and Russell Westbrook). Harden has played at an All-Star level each year in Houston, winning three scoring titles along the way. Harden solidified himself as one of the top scorers in NBA history. If it weren't for a CP3 hamstring injury and an all-time Golden State Warriors super team, Harden would've brought home the Rockets third championship title.

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The Astros suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Yankees Thursday. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

After an impressive two-game sweep of the NL-best Mets at home earlier in the week, the Astros took to the road to begin a four-game series with the league-best Yankees on Thursday night. To little surprise, the series started with a bang (no, not a trash can bang) in more ways than one, confirming that this series should be a must-watch this weekend.

New York's comeback proves no lead will be safe

Right from the get-go, the loud Yankee Stadium faithful had their chance to rain boos down on Jose Altuve before showing some pleasure as he led off the series by being hit by a pitch. They were quickly, though only temporarily, quieted as Altuve would come in to score two batters later on a three-run blast by Alex Bregman.

Three-run homers seemed to be a theme, as New York would get one of their own to tie the game off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton to tie the game, then Yordan Alvarez continued his dominant June by pushing the Astros back in front by three with another three-run bomb in the third, making it 6-3. That lead held through to the bottom of the ninth, where instead of holding it, Ryan Pressly issued two walks to set up the fourth homer of the game to tie things again before Aaron Judge would get a walk-off single to complete the impressive comeback.

Not only will we get to sit back and watch the slug-fest between Yordan and Judge this weekend, but it looks like with Alex Bregman swinging well again to round out the top of Houston's order, the Astros may be getting closer to their full power. So far in June, these two teams sit third and fourth in on-base percentage, with the Astros at .351 and the Yankees right behind at .350. That means we should continue to see scoring opportunities on both sides that can tilt momentum one way or the other as these lineups try to battle against the opposing pitcher.

How will the aces fare

Verlander vs. Judge, and Cole vs. Alvarez, need I say more? Although we won't see Justin Verlander go up against Gerrit Cole in the same game in this series (they should go head to head next Thursday, however), they will pitch on back-to-back days, with Houston's ace going Friday night and New York's on Saturday afternoon. Verlander is coming off his worst start of the year, a three and two-thirds inning outing where the White Sox put up seven runs, four earned, against him and knocked him out early to give him his third loss and increased his ERA from 1.94 to 2.30.

The last time he faced the Yankees was in the Bronx in the 2019 playoffs, in ALCS Game 5, where he went seven frames while allowing four runs, all on two homers in the first inning, which is all New York needed to grab the 4-1 victory to make it a 3-2 Houston lead in the series, which the Astros would go on to clinch in Game 6. So, with the double dose of bad taste in his mouth, it will be interesting to see if he can use that as the fuel to get back to the phenomenal form he's had this year or if the Yankees try to jump on him early like they did nearly three years ago.

Cole, meanwhile, is fresh off of two quality starts in a row against the Rays, where he allowed just one run on six hits with nineteen strikeouts over 13.1 innings of work. He's had his share of strife this season, though, including a seven-run shelling by the Twins earlier this month, along with a start in April where he couldn't make it through two innings against the Tigers. He's had success against his former club, most notably a complete-game shutout in Houston last July with twelve K's and holding the Astros to just three hits.

If the series opener was any indication, we are in for the treat of a playoff-caliber matchup, if not a potential ALCS preview that we may see in October. The Yankees showed why they have the best record and are the hottest team in baseball on Thursday night, but the Astros were only a good outing from their closer away from having a relatively lopsided win. The rivalry is real; the competition is close, and we get to enjoy the show.

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