If you weren’t screaming and sending question marks to your group chat when Woj sent his latest bomb about the James Harden trade, consider me feeling bad for you. James Harden getting traded to the Brooklyn Nets is a “Where were you when…?” kind of moment.
For those of you not in the loop here’s what went down.
After a dismal performance with the Houston Rockets, James Harden took to the microphone and basically made it clear he wanted out of Houston. You know the drill “I’ve done all I can here,” or “I love this city and I want to thank the fans.” That kind of stuff. However, just before Harden took the mic, his then-teammate John Wall basically called him out for not buying into the team.
The writing was on the wall at this point. Harden wanted out and it was clear he was going to literally drag his feet until he was dealt. Thankfully, he didn’t have to wait very long.
First things first, the Houston Rockets won this trade and it’s not even close. The Rockets then turned around and dealt Caris LeVert and a second round pick to the Pacers for Victor Oladipo. Staggering return right there, and that’s not even mentioning the return for Harden.
Four first-round picks and four pick swaps from Brooklyn, all of them unprotected, for James Harden. That is… That’s something else, but not something we haven’t seen before. In order to really understand what happened in this deal, we need to break it down piece by piece. And in a nod to his Adidas shoe line, we’re going through the five volumes of the James Harden deal.
Volume One: A Homecoming of Sorts
We all know the James Harden and Kevin Durant came on the scene together as a part of the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Big 3. The Thunder team could have been something, but thanks to some shortsighted financial thinking, Harden was traded to Houston.
Harden and KD were great teammates, although Harden hadn’t reached his final form. But the thing you cannot deny is that KD works well with big scoring threat. Half of the reason the world cried foul when he joined the Golden State Warriors was that he was getting not one elite scorer, but two in Steph Curry and Klay Thompson.
Harden has yet to find that kind of chemistry with another star after failing to gel with Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and most recently another former OKC teammate in Russell Westbrook. The Rockets even brought in Christian Wood and DeMarcus Cousins to help Harden and John Wall down low. That obviously didn’t work for Harden, who dipped out after barely showing up to play.
Will pairing KD and Harden together with another elite point guard forge the same fiery results as it did in OKC? Perhaps. But it would help if that point guard wasn’t already forging a divide between himself and the team.
Volume Two: Kyrie Falling Flat
There are few controversial players in the NBA that can hold a candle to Kyrie Irving. Whether it’s his belief in the theory that the earth is flat, or that John F. Kennedy was killed by the Federal Reserve, and that the CIA tried to kill Bob Marley. You know, the normal stuff.
But more recently, the issues with Kyrie have taken him off the court and away from the Nets.
That was a week ago. Since then, the team has yet to determine a timeline for Kyrie’s return, and the league has yet to say whether or not they will impose their own quarantine on him when he returns.
The whole thing is a mess, not to mention that there’s another rumor floating around that this has to do with Kyrie’s anger about the hiring of Steve Nash. So, you have a player with a bit of an attitude problem, and you just traded for another player with an attitude problem, both of whom want control of the ball.
On the court might be a different story, but the locker room Harden is walking into is already full of sound and fury coming from Kyrie’s tumultuous situation.
Volume 3: The KG/PP Debacle
The biggest comparison you’ll see to the trade is the one the Nets infamously made back in 2013. Without going into the details, the CliffNotes version is this: the Nets traded four first-round picks to the Boston Celtics in exchange for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Why is that significant? Because Pierce and Garnett barely played for the Nets and the Celtics drafted Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and sent one pick to Cleveland in a deal for… Kyrie Irving.
Long story short, the Brooklyn Nets mortgaged their future for two aging veterans and then watched them collapse. That’s the exact blueprint this time around except the Nets gave away more. Four 1st round picks, including Cavs’ 2022 first, and 4 Nets pick swaps were sent to Rockets.
If that’s not mortgaging your future, then I don’t know what is. Now, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in 2013 are not the same as 2021 James Harden, but the signs feel similar.
And even further, the ramifications of that trade is still being felt. Sure at the moment, this deal might feel like a win. New York franchises love a short-term win even if it is a long-term problem. And this deal is a short-term one, no matter how you slice it, but more on that in a bit.
Volume 4: Chemistry
The big joke on twitter has been “well, who’s gonna handle the ball?” Which is kind of a lazy joke. We all used to joke about that when the Boston Celtics formed their Big 3, or when LeBron went to the Miami Heat. Hell, even when the rumors of Westbrook wanting to go to the Clippers came across our timelines, that was the joke we dusted off and used.
But let’s think about this real quick. Durant, as we know from his time with both the Thunder and the Warriors, is better when surrounded by elite guards. We can check that box for sure. Kyrie played a similar style of ball in Cleveland with LeBron James and Kevin Love. However, it’s Harden that seems to have a hard time adjusting to the games of others.
The Rockets brought in Dwight Howard, and things didn’t work out. They traded Patrick Beverley, Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell, Darrun Hilliard, DeAndre Liggins, Lou Williams, Kyle Wiltjer, $661k cash and a 2018 1st round draft pick (who later turned out to be Omari Spellman) for Chris Paul. This move almost payed off, as the Rockets came within a game of sending the Warriors packing.
However, two years after that deal, the Rockets sent Paul packing, along with a 2021 1st round draft pick, a 2024 1st round draft pick, a 2025 1st round draft pick and a 2026 1st round draft pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Russell Westbrook.
The Rockets gave away everything to make James Harden happy, to find a player that he meshed with, and he still wasn’t happy. So when we talk about chemistry on the Nets you need to remember that just because things seem to work out on paper, doesn’t mean you’ll see results in real life.
Volume 5: The Future
If you’re a Nets fan, you should be optimistic about the future, but don’t look too far down the road. Why? Because after next season, post-2021-22, all three pieces have player options.
That’s right. The Brooklyn Nets sold their future for a small window of opportunity with a terrible latch. While peering out at the wonders that lay before them, there’s the chance that window could slam shut and take some fingers with it.
That’s the biggest question we have to be asking ourselves with this deal: Is it worth it given the risks?
For my money, it is not. Two out of the three big pieces are volatile personalities with big egos, who could easily take their ball and go elsewhere in two years. And if that happens, what’s left for Brooklyn? Another spin on the carousel of sadness for a few years as they send their draft picks away for the next big thing? Oh wait, they can’t, because they traded away all of their picks for James Harden.
The Brooklyn Nets are trying to break away from their history by repeating it, and that’s oddly a noble gamble. But like all gambles, there’s risk involved. And this is one they might be paying for longer than they’d like to.
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