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James Harden trade grades: Nets go all-in on championship chase; Rockets do well with little leverage



James Harden trade grades: Nets go all-in on championship chase; Rockets do well with little leverage

On Tuesday night, James Harden told reporters he didn’t think his situation in Houston could be fixed. Less than 24 hours later, Harden is on his way to Brooklyn.

The Rockets are sending Harden to the Nets as part of a four-team deal also involving the Cavaliers and Pacers, according to multiple reports. The 76ers appeared to be the favorites to land the eight-time All-Star as trade conversations picked up Wednesday, but Houston ultimately accepted Brooklyn’s offer, which includes immense draft compensation.

What does this deal mean for the Cavaliers, Nets, Pacers and Rockets? Here is a breakdown of blockbuster trade.

MORE: Why does Kyrie Irving keep missing games?

James Harden trade grades

Cavaliers receive: Jarrett Allen, Taurean Prince

Nets receive: James Harden, second-round pick

Pacers receive: Caris LeVert, second-round pick

Rockets receive: Dante Exum, Rodions Kurucs, Victor Oladipo, four first-round picks (all unprotected), four first-round pick swaps (all unprotected)

  • Nets’ picks in 2022, 2024 and 2026
  • Cavaliers’ pick in 2022 (via Bucks)
  • Pick swaps with Nets in 2021, 2023, 2025 and 2027

Nets: C+

Let’s be clear: The Nets now possess an incredibly talented trio with Harden, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Each player is a three-level scorer capable of dropping 30-plus points on any given night. No NBA team can match up with these guys on paper.

But there are just so many questions about this “Big Three.” Can Harden get back into shape and learn to change his game? Will Durant be able to stay healthy? Is Irving actually interested in playing basketball?

Aside from the major concerns, the loss of depth also presents on-court issues. Harden, Durant and Irving all rank in the top 20 on the all-time leaderboard for usage percentage. They will need to sacrifice touches and work together in order for the Nets to be a contender. Defensively, oh boy. We aren’t exactly looking at the 2003-04 Pistons here.

A shiver may have gone down Nets’ fans spines when this trade was reported because of the easy connection to the ill-fated deal that brought past-their-primes Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to Brooklyn. Harden is certainly not at that stage of his career, and the Nets are much better positioned to compete for a championship now than they were in 2013.

Still, this is a steep price to pay for a 31-year-old who completely checked out on his last team. Harden is under contract for at least 2020-21 and 2021-22 (plus a $47 million player option in 2022-23), so there is time for him to transform into his old self, but not much. The Nets handed over control of their next seven drafts to the Rockets. They need their stars to align, or the future could be dark.

Rockets: A-

Houston did an incredible job to recover and acquire several assets after Harden seemingly tanked his value with his poor play and antics. The Rockets didn’t snag a potential franchise cornerstone such as Ben Simmons, but they got a tremendous package of picks. That will give them a fresh influx of young talent over the next decade. 

As for the players, Oladipo is obviously the biggest piece. He has looked much improved after a lackluster “bubble” showing last year, averaging 20.0 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game. It’s possible he develops a nice chemistry with John Wall and Christian Wood.

If the Rockets don’t view Oladipo as a good fit, though, they can look to flip him before the 2021 trade deadline. Both Oladipo and PJ Tucker are on expiring contracts, so Houston could be a seller in March.

Regardless of where the Rockets end up in the standings, they have eliminated the toxic cloud hanging over the organization. First-year coach Stephen Silas and his players can finally move on.

Pacers: B+

Indiana looked terrific to start the 2020-21 campaign and appeared to be a real threat in the Eastern Conference. Swapping Oladipo for LeVert may lower the Pacers’ short-term ceiling, but it’s a smart long-term play.

Had Oladipo continued performing at a high level, the Pacers likely would have struggled to keep him in free agency. LeVert is signed through 2023, and at only 26 years old, he has his best years ahead of him. He must work on his defense and 3-point shooting (33.9 percent for his career) so he can be a spot-up threat when Malcolm Brogdon and Domantas Sabonis have the ball, but that could come in time.

Don’t sleep on the Pacers. They could make some noise in the 2021 playoffs.

Cavaliers: Incomplete

Even Andre Drummond thinks the Cavaliers have too many bigs on the roster.

Allen should fit well as a pick-and-roll option next to Collin Sexton and Darius Garland and cover up their defensive deficiencies as a rim protector. But will the Cavaliers clear the way for him to play, or will he be stuck backing up a veteran again?

Drummond, Kevin Love, JaVale McGee, Larry Nance Jr. — the frontcourt is way too crowded. Giving an incomplete feels like a bit of a cop-out, but there should be more changes coming in Cleveland. Let’s see what happens.

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Who is Nick Sirianni? Meet the Eagles’ new head coach, an ideal replacement for Doug Pederson



Who is Nick Sirianni? Meet the Eagles' new head coach, an ideal replacement for Doug Pederson

The Eagles were the last team to fire their head coach after the 2020 NFL season. Philadelphia didn’t take too long to find their replacement for Doug Pederson.

Nick Sirianni became the NFL’s sixth new head-coaching hire of the 2021 offseason on Thursday, agreeing to terms with the Eagles. The former Colts offensive coordinator will lead Philadelphia’s coaching shakeup, joining Urban Meyer (Jaguars), Robert Saleh (Jets), Arthur Smith (Falcons), Brandon Staley (Chargers), Dan Campbell (Lions) as new coaches around the league in 2021.

Sirianni, 39, may not have seemed like the obvious choice, but there are many reasons to think he’s an ideal hire to go in a different but also similar direction from Pederson:

MORE: Can the Eagles trade Carson Wentz?

Nick Sirianni is the next-best thing to Frank Reich — and isn’t Josh McDaniels

The Eagles could have followed their Pederson path and plucked either offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy (overdue for such a job) or quarterbacks coach Mike Kafka (still young for such a job) from the Chiefs’ staff. There also was an intriguing in-house candidate in Duce Staley.

But there was a reason the Eagles did not want to be attached to Pederson connections and tap more into what they lost with Reich offensively since he separated from Pederson. Reich has quickly proven his worth as the Colts coach with two playoff trips in three years when his QB play has been solid, first with Andrew Luck and then with Philip Rivers.

Sirianni worked as Reich’s right-hand man with the Colts after the pair built a strong connection while on the Chargers’ staff together. He is a bright, organized mind ideal to fix the Eagles’ offense, using a more balanced and diverse approach.

The Eagles, like the Colts in 2018, were reportedly closing in on Josh McDaniels, the Patriots’ offensive coordinator, but did a wise pivot to Reich’s staff in the end. It’s hard to ignore how Reich has been so much better than McDaniels would have been in Indy. Sirianni has played a key part in that.

He has good Chiefs’ experience away from the Andy Reid tree

Sirianni started his NFL career with the Chiefs back in 2009. He served as coach of offensive quality control, quarterbacks (assistant) and wide receivers during his four seasons there. That got him on track to quickly get plenty of game-planning and player-motivating experience. Sirianni also held all three roles for the Chargers, too, from 2013-2017. Sirianni has made the most of all three solid stints to earn his first head-coaching shot.

He made it work twice with Philip Rivers and can do the same with Carson Wentz

Sirianni and Reich knew Rivers well from the Chargers and got one more strong season out of him before Rivers decided to retire. The elevated QB play, taking advantage of support from the running game and a good offensive line, can happen again with the mobile Wentz in Philadelphia. He can make Miles Sanders a bigger, consistent factor to set up a more favorable passing game were Wentz takes full advantage of play-action for deep shots while also being trained to get the ball out quickly and going back to using the middle of the field with more effective results.

If for some reason the Eagles would like to roll with Jalen Hurts for Sirianni, he can adjust to Hurts’ better athleticism and put in some of the same balanced, spread-the-ball concepts.

He has versatile offensive experience with Todd Haley, Mike McCoy

Haley and McCoy had ups and downs as both play-callers and head coaches. But in their best days, with a history of learning from all kinds of strong offensive mentors themselves, they were successful with different styles when necessary. Sirianni clicked most with Reich, but also was a valuable assistant for Haley and McCoy — to the point he was retained by their head-coaching successors.

For being younger than 40, Sirianni has an impressive resume in a variety of roles, stamped by how much Reich trusted him in Indianapolis. Now the Eagles are putting from that familiar trust, hoping it leads most to turning Wentz into a top quarterback again.

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Alex Morgan has recovered from COVID-19, USWNT coach confirms



Alex Morgan has recovered from COVID-19, USWNT coach confirms

U.S. national team head coach Vlatko Andonovski has confirmed that Alex Morgan has recovered from COVID-19 and is back on the training field.

Two weeks ago, Morgan announced that she and her family had tested positive for COVID-19 over the holidays. Following the diagnosis, Morgan was left off the roster for the USWNT’s January camp and two friendlies against Colombia.

“We’re very happy to hear that Alex is doing great and everything in terms of COVID is behind her,” Andonovski said Thursday. “She’s been training well. She passed all the medical tests and screenings that she’s supposed to in order to get back on the field and start training.”

Morgan recently returned to the U.S. after a short stint in England with Tottenham. After battling injuries to start her time in north London, Morgan scored two goals in four Women’s Super League appearances for Spurs. 

She will now return to the Orlando Pride of the NWSL ahead of preseason and appears likely to be called in next month when the USWNT hosts Brazil, Japan and Canada for the SheBelieves Cup.

The USWNT defeated Colombia 4-0 on Monday night on the strength of a hat trick from Sam Mewis and another goal from her sister Kristie.

The two teams will face off again at Exploria Stadium in Orlando on Friday night and Andonovski has said there will likely be some major changes to his lineup. 

“We’ll have 18 players on the game day roster and rotation will be significant,” he said. “We’re going to see players that didn’t play or didn’t start and that’s what these games are all about.

“We want to see what players can do under pressure, we want to see how certain players are connecting with different players. We want to see how different sub groups are doing.

“We will use hopefully all six subs.”

Andonovski also confirmed that Sophia Smith and Mallory Pugh will both miss out against Colombia on Friday. Smith was injured in warmups on Monday night, while Pugh was injured on the third day of camp and has been working on rehabbing her injury since then.

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Steelers sign Dwayne Haskins to 1-year deal after Washington release



Steelers sign Dwayne Haskins to 1-year deal after Washington release

Dwayne Haskins has already found his new NFL home.

The Steelers announced Thursday that they have signed Haskins to a reserve/futures contract, less than a month after he was released by the Washington Football Team.

MORE: Rivers’ retirement is reminder that clock has expired for Big Ben

It makes sense that Pittsburgh would offer a trial run for the No. 15 overall pick of the 2019 NFL Draft. Despite his clear physical gifts, he was never able to put it all together in Washington, completing 267 of 444 passes (60.1 percent) for 2,804 yards, 12 touchdowns and 14 interceptions and a quarterback rating of 74.4 over two seasons with the WFT.

His final week in Washington was notably brutal. He reportedly attended a strip club without a mask — he claims it was a birthday party — was fined $40,000 for violating the NFL’s COVID-19 protocol and later stripped of his captaincy from the WFT. Washington had no choice but to start him in the team’s final game against Carolina, but he gave it no reason to consider keeping him on after a dismal 14-of-28 passing performance for 154 yards, two interceptions and a fumble lost. He was later benched for Taylor Heinicke, who put together a surprisingly strong performance in Washington’s NFC wild-card berth against Tampa Bay.

The Steelers, meanwhile, are likely looking to the future for the quarterback position now that Ben Roethlisberger, 38, has completed his 17th NFL season. After the retirement of Philip Rivers, Roethlisberger is the last remaining quarterback from that legendary trio of 2004 first-round signal-callers (the last being No. 1 overall pick Eli Manning). He completed 399 of 608 passes (65.6 percent) for 3,803 yards, 33 touchdowns to 10 interceptions and a 94.1 quarterback rating in 2020, a year after an injury limited him to only two games in 2019.

That said, it’s clear that there’s room for competition behind him as the team looks forward: Backups James Washington and Joshua Dobbs combined to complete 29 of 48 passes for 326 yards and two touchdowns to one interception behind Roethlisberger. With that in mind, it’s not surprising that Pittsburgh would give Haskins a chance to show he can contribute to the team.

Otherwise, the team may look to the 2021 NFL Draft for its quarterback of the future: Sporting News’ Vinnie Iyer projects the team to select Florida quarterback Kyle Trask with the No. 24 overall pick.

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