The chants of MVP are unlikely to echo inside Toyota Center again soon. The potential for record-book pages to be rewritten, and hopes to rise with scoring numbers, will be diminished.
The Rockets, however, will have what they wanted and, with it, a player with experience in such a rare situation.
Victor Oladipo has been here before. Unusual as blockbuster trades such as the Rockets’ move to deal James Harden are, this is not the first time Oladipo has been asked to replace the face of a franchise and join a team shocked by a trade.
The Rockets needed a lot if they were to trade Harden. In Oladipo, they land a player who fits general manager Rafael Stone’s already clear style of gambling on upside, including stars’ return from injuries.
The Rockets said goodbye to Harden in a four-team deal that brings Oladipo from the Pacers to be their replacement star.
They will get a haul of draft picks — three Nets first-rounders and a Bucks first-rounder from the Cavaliers — to restock their supply after surrendering selections in the 2019 offseason in the deal for Russell Westbrook. The Rockets even added the right to swap draft positions with the Nets if the futures of the teams change enough for Brooklyn’s picks to be better than Houston’s.
In Oladipo, 28, they land a strong two-way guard who should fit with John Wall far better than Harden did, potentially allowing Wall to return to his All-Star form. They’ll add a better defensive player. They’ll also get — though not the perennial MVP candidate Harden has been — a two-time All-Star.
That was all part of the price tag the Rockets had on Harden since he asked out in the offseason. They didn’t expect, however, to land someone with the experience of being traded for a franchise’s iconic superstar.
In 2017, Oladipo went to Indiana, where he played college basketball for the Indiana Hoosiers, when the Pacers made the shocking move of trading Paul George to Oklahoma City. Oladipo responded by winning the NBA’s Most Improved Player award, averaging a career-best 23.1 points and a league-leading 2.4 steals. He went out with a ruptured quadriceps muscle in January 2019, however, and played in just 13 games last season.
As with the Rockets’ other players coming off major injuries — John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and David Nwaba — Oladipo has looked fully recovered. He has averaged 20 points this season, making 42.1 percent of his shots, 36.2 percent of his 3s.
He is, however, signed only through this season, making the Rockets’ move to get him risky. The bet is that he will continue to get stronger and will want to stick around. The Rockets already have confidence in Oladipo’s health, having watched him move defensively while guarding Harden last week and repeatedly beating him to spots on Harden’s moves.
His upside made Oladipo the Rockets’ preferred player acquisition in a trade. As part of the deal, they also will bring in guard Dante Exum from the Cavaliers and forward Rodions Kurucs from the Nets.
Exum, 25, is an outstanding defensive player who has struggled with injuries throughout his career and is out for one to two months with a calf injury. Kurucs, 22, was a 2018 second-round pick who has shown flashes of potential as a 6-9 small forward but was unable to crack the Nets’ rotation.
Both were included to make the deal work and are on expiring contracts, but the Rockets wanted to see if they could fit.
The pile of picks was far more essential.
The Rockets will have the right to swap first-round picks with the Nets in 2021, 2023, 2025 and 2027. They will get the Nets’ first-round pick in 2022, 2024 and 2026. They will get the Bucks’ first-round pick from the Cavaliers in 2022. All the picks and pick swaps are unprotected, with the Rockets hoping that whatever success the Nets have with their new big three of Harden, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, the picks will eventually get better or become valuable trade assets.
The Rockets also duck under the luxury tax, allowing them to escape the hard cap and give them considerably more flexibility to make other deals.
Still, Oladipo is the most immediate prize in the package heading to Houston. He arrives have filled big shoes before.