How did the Houston Rockets not take back Jarrett Allen in the James Harden deal?

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Jarrett Allen went off last night, showing the Rockets what they’re missing.
Jarrett Allen went off last night, showing the Rockets what they’re missing.
Image: Getty Images

As soon as Kenny Atkinson parted ways with the Brooklyn Nets on March 7 of last year, Jarrett Allen lost his starting spot to DeAndre Jordan. The move only lasted for two games because days later, we were amid a country-wide shutdown. But it also crystalized Allen’s standing with Brooklyn, which carried over into this season.

Allen is headed for restricted free agency this summer, and a contract extension wouldn’t have made sense in Brooklyn given their long-term commitment to fellow center Jordan. As a result of his soon-to-be expiring contract, Allen was primed to be at the center (no pun intended, really) of a trade for an incoming third star to join Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Obviously, the Nets deal landed James Harden, but the Houston Rockets decided not to take Allen back for some inexplicable reason. Sure, the Nets probably would’ve been better with Allen than Jordan, but now they have Harden, so who cares?

According to Allen’s basketball-reference page, the official four-team trade has Allen going straight to Cleveland, who moved a future second-round pick to Brooklyn, as well as a 2022 first-rounder and Dante Exum to the Houston Rockets. Perhaps it’s because Tilman Fertitta is expected to be hesitant in paying anyone long-term, but the Rockets aren’t even likely to keep 2021 free-agent-to-be Victor Oladipo. So But why didn’t the Rockets just take back Allen instead of a future first?


There was a time where Oladipo might’ve gotten a max contract or something extremely close, but given his production this season — especially with the Rockets — such a healthy deal would be unlikely, if not misguided. Allen isn’t someone who should command a max contract either, but judging by the deals we’ve seen other centers obtain in recent years, a hefty extension of some kind is likely in the cards. Cleveland can’t afford not to keep guys anyway unless another legendary Ohio native returns to save their franchise (which is actually improving).

But even post-Harden, the Rockets didn’t have to strip everything down in an attempt to rebuild completely. Hell, with John Wall’s contract, you probably couldn’t. With Oladipo, the DeMarcus Cousins release, and the addition of Christian Wood, you weren’t truly committed to a full-fledged rebuild anyway. The 22-year-old Allen not only would’ve been money better spent this summer, but he would’ve been an ideal complement to Wall and Wood beyond this season, as well as the collection plus Oladipo this season.


Allen’s averaging 14.8 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks with the Cavaliers. He’s also made 67 percent of his field goals and has made 3-of-6 from three, teasing a long-range shot he infrequently utilized in Brooklyn but tried to develop nonetheless. He has an absurd offensive rating of 137 and is a seamless supporting piece next to Sexland — Cleveland’s young backcourt of Collin Sexton and Darius Garland. Allen’s the ideal rim-running, defensive-minded, offensively-efficient center for today’s game, and next to a face-up stretch-four like Wood, the Rockets could’ve secured a frontcourt for years to come.

The irony is that Allen showed the Rockets up close just last night, going off for 26 points, 18 rebounds, and four blocks on 10-of-11 shooting.