US Sports Veteran
The Brooklyn Nets successfully reunited James Harden and Kevin Durant on Jan. 13, putting together a four-team deal for the disgruntled shooting guard. Shams Charania of The Athletic broke the news, generating shockwaves across the NBA community. Now, Brooklyn and head coach Steve Nash boast three All-NBA players and the sports world’s hottest headline.
According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, talks between the Houston Rockets and the Nets escalated over the past several days, but the tension in Houston finally boiled over during the past 24 hours. At a press conference on Tuesday night, Harden told the media, “I love this city. I’ve literally done everything I can. This situation is crazy. It’s something I don’t think can be fixed.”
DeMarcus Cousins responded, telling Sam Amick of The Athletic, “My interest is to play with John Wall, to be brutally honest. …The (Harden) disrespect started way before. This isn’t something that, you know, all of a sudden started last night. …It’s completely unfair to the rest of the guys in the locker room.”
After Harden’s final declaration, the Rockets quickly moved to distance him from the team, telling the star not to attend practice according to ESPN’s Tim MacMahon. News first leaked out that Harden wanted a trade earlier this fall, after the Rockets fell to the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Semifinals. At the time, Houston didn’t intend on trading Harden or fellow All-Star Russell Westbrook. Now, both future Hall of Famers play for Eastern Conference teams.
The Philadelphia 76ers and Nets emerged as the lead candidates for landing Harden in recent days. Both organizations have the potential to win a championship this season, which is something Harden targeted when putting together a list of teams he’d willingly join. The two franchises also possessed the young talent and draft picks to facilitate blockbuster deals.
Harden’s attitude and public comments made a deal essential, but the math was complicated. To facilitate the mega-deal, Brooklyn and Houston involved the Cleveland Cavaliers and Indiana Pacers. Charania Tweeted the entire trade, which involves former All-Star and pending free agent Victor Oladipo joining Houston. Meanwhile, the Nets part ways with three of their top seven leading scorers.
The Rockets, who opened the season 3-6 under new head coach Stephen Silas, have a new trajectory less than ten games into the season. Initially, the organization still planned on fielding a playoff team led by Harden, former All-Star John Wall, and Christian Wood. However, Harden showed up late to training camp and showed little interest in playing up to his MVP standards. The 31-year-old only averaged 17.4 points per game in his final five outings with Houston.
A few weeks into the 2020-21 NBA season, Silas and first-year general manager Rafael Stone face a new challenge. Neither man signed up for a rebuild, but that’s what they’re dealing with. The three first-round picks and four first-round pick swaps Brooklyn sent to Houston are unprotected, meaning the Rockets have a massive war chest to target young talent over the next six years.
However, Houston is only partially prepared for a rebuild. While Cousins, Dante Exum, Ben McLemore, Oladipo, and P.J. Tucker become free agents this coming offseason, Wall is under contract until 2023. Eric Gordon (2024) and Christian Wood (2023) also carry expensive cap hits over the next few years. Houston’s future as a franchise remains murky.
Meanwhile, the Nets have made their intentions clear. They plan on winning an NBA championship this season. At 6-6, Brooklyn is off to a slow start as Durant gets situated with his third team. The former MVP has come back strong after suffering a torn Achilles nearly two years ago. He’s averaging about 30 points per game this season while knocking down 44.7% of his three-pointers.
Two potential icebergs could sink Brooklyn’s fancy new ship. First, the exact details surrounding Kyrie Irving’s latest brush with the league and media aren’t well-known. The mercurial star and former NBA Finals hero hasn’t played in a game since Jan. 5. Irving left the team for personal reasons, surprising his head coach. A video later surfaced of Irving without a mask at a party.
The NBA is investigating the video to determine if Irving violated the league’s health and safety protocols surrounding COVID-19. If he did, the point guard could face an extended quarantine period before rejoining the Nets. In December, the league fined Harden for a similar situation, but that didn’t occur with a team trying to build a championship contender.
The second issue results directly from the Harden trade. Brooklyn traded away four players (Jarrett Allen, Rodions Kurucs, Caris LeVert, and Taurean Prince), leaving some noticeable holes on the team’s bench. Brooklyn is already without Spencer Dinwiddie, who suffered a partially torn ACL in late December and is out for the year.
A lack of depth has cost title chasers in the past. The LeBron James-led Miami Heat notoriously suffered from a weak bench. Things only leveled out after the team added Shane Battier and then Ray Allen in reserve roles. Compared to Brooklyn, Boston, Indiana, Miami, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia all possess greater depth. However, none of those teams have three All-NBA players in their starting lineups.
The Harden trade could define the 2020-21 NBA season and have consequences that dominate the young decade. Durant, Harden, and Irving could all stay in Brooklyn until 2023 and have the chance to win multiple rings. If they don’t, the move could go down as the latest trade to set the franchise back seven years. Meanwhile, the Rockets are one step closer to a total rebuild.
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