A James Harden trade has become an increasingly real possibility. The Brooklyn Nets are reportedly at the front of the queue if Houston starts entertaining offers for Harden.
The Rockets have seen Russell Westbrook effectively ask to leave. Danuel House and P.J. Tucker are unhappy. Daryl Morey and Mike D’Antoni have left the franchise, joining the Sixers and Nets respectively. It’s going to be an uphill battle to convince Harden they can be a serious title contender in the next season or two.
Reuniting with D’Antoni and Kevin Durant in Brooklyn has become Harden’s preferred trade destination, as reported by ESPN on Sunday. Harden, of course, played with Durant in Oklahoma City, and D’Antoni masterminded the Harden-centric offence which made him a perennial MVP candidate. The veteran coach is on Steve Nash‘s star-studded staff.
Durant and Harden reportedly floated the idea during offseason workouts. It’s no secret that Durant and Kyrie Irving had a major role in the decision to hire Nash. If the two superstars decide they want this trade to happen, the likelihood is that it will.
Houston will want multiple draft assets, young players and pick swaps, according to ESPN. The haul the Thunder got for Paul George is what the Rockets will be hoping for. Brooklyn owns their future picks to make such a deal, and in Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie, Jarrett Allen, Taurean Prince and Dzanan Musa, they have good players who will interest Houston.
Harden’s fit in Brooklyn
Putting the league’s two greatest scorers together, alongside one of the top (when healthy) point guards, is a mouth-watering prospect initially. The concept will have Nets fans giddy. Weight of talent can do a lot in the NBA, but Harden, Irving and Durant on the floor together isn’t an obvious fit.
Harden is by far the league’s leader in isolations. Irving and Durant are prone to dribbling the air out of the ball, too. Harden has become the player he is because the team is about him, because he’s able to hog the ball. The Rockets have stalled in the playoffs, often because Harden is a non-factor off-ball. He ran 14.1 isolations per game last season – that number will plummet on a team with Durant and Irving.
Harden has taken over 20 shots per game in each of the last three seasons. Irving was at 20.8 in his limited playing time with Brooklyn in 2019/20. Durant took fewer playing with Golden State, but he’s never been lower than 16.5. Sharing the ball enough to bring the best out of each of them individually is a challenge, but off-court issues seem inevitable too.
Each player will have to sacrifice substantially – Irving left Cleveland because he didn’t want to be in LeBron James‘ shadow. Would he be happy being the third option?
There are already reports that some Nets players are not convinced about trading for Harden.
Building an offence around three incredibly high-usage players would be a monumental challenge. Harden has to be a threat off-ball. The defence is just as concerning.
Irving and Harden are targeted on the defensive end. That’s a vulnerable backcourt.
The Rockets are never going to get value for Harden. It’s impossible to get a ‘fair’ return for a player of his standard, but that doesn’t make it a must-do deal for the Nets. They will have to gut the remainder of their roster and leave themselves with no future draft assets.
Brooklyn will be dependent on veterans taking pay-cuts to play alongside the three stars. Allen will be gone, making DeAndre Jordan the starting centre for the foreseeable future. All of this to establish an historic ‘big three’, but a trio that are not an obvious on-court fit.
The force of talent in the NBA shouldn’t be underestimated, and maybe putting Durant, Irving and Harden on one team is as simple as that. Perhaps they win titles by just being unstoppable offensively. Maybe Harden buys in as an off-ball player in a way he hasn’t for several years.
It seems like such an enormous gamble, though. A gamble on and off the court. They can give up less and bring in a player who fits better (Jrue Holiday, anyone?) alongside Durant and Irving – that’s got to be the preferable option.