If James Harden gets traded to the Nets, Josh Hart, for one, thinks the 2021 NBA title race is a wrap

Get ready for a wild week in NBA land. The trade market opens Monday. The draft is on Wednesday. And free agency begins on Friday with players able to officially sign contracts with their new teams on Sunday. Buckle the heck up. 

Rumors are already flying. Russell Westbrook wants out of Houston. Jrue Holiday is available. The Warriors might trade their No. 2 pick, possibly for LaMarcus Aldridge. The Celtics are reportedly looking to deal their three first-round picks to move up for a lottery pick, which they could try to move to New Orleans for Holiday. The Lakers have already agreed to send their No. 28 pick this year and Danny Green to OKC for Dennis Schroder. 

Things are happening behind the scenes. 

Those whispers are the calm before the storm. 

And what a storm it will be if James Harden ends up getting dealt to the Brooklyn Nets, who have apparently moved to the top of Harden’s wish list, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Ramona Shelburne and Zach Lowe. From ESPN:

As Houston Rockets star James Harden considers his uncertain future with the franchise, the Brooklyn Nets are rising to the top of his list as a possible trade destination, sources told ESPN.

The idea of joining Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn is resonating with Harden, sources said.

Durant and Harden — past teammates with the Oklahoma City Thunder — have recently discussed the possibility, but there have yet to be trade discussions between the two front offices.

Harden has been increasingly uneasy about the Rockets’ ability to compete for an NBA title and has been considering the possibility of pushing to play elsewhere before his contract expires, sources said.

The Nets are believed to be considering the viability of a deal for Harden, but it is unclear how far the franchise would go in delivering Houston the assets it might require in return.

If this deal were to actually materialize, you would be hard pressed to find a more talented threesome in NBA history than Durant, Harden and Irving. When Josh Hart of the New Orleans Pelicans caught wind of the possibility, he tweeted: “I was already over 2020, but if James goes to Brooklyn then I’ll see ya’ll 2022 ’cause they got 2021.” 

Is Hart right? If Harden, Durant and Irving join up, is the 2021 title race a wrap? Again, there would be no denying their talent. The question is how would they fit? You could argue the Durant-Steph Curry-Klay Thompson threesome represented roughly equal talent but went together much cleaner, mostly because of Curry and Thompson’s ability to thrive off the ball. 

Harden, Irving and Durant all need the ball to be their best, and indeed, this “there’s only one ball” drum will be beat into the ground if this deal does come together. It might be true. Durant and Irving might get pretty tired of watching Harden dribble in place for 10 seconds, and vice versa when Irving is doing the ball pounding. Meanwhile, Durant is a better scorer than both of them. 

Defense would be an issue. Harden has gotten better, but he and Irving remain defensive minuses, and who knows if Durant will be the defensive wrecking ball he was in Golden State without a Draymond Green-type as a tag-team partner or Golden State’s overall system in place. The Nets just hired Steve Nash and Mike D’Antoni. Not exactly a Bad Boys culture. 

Injuries are a concern. Irving played just 20 games last season. Durant is coming off an Achilles tear. 

Depth would also be a problem. The Nets would almost certainly have to send out Caris LeVert and Spencer Dinwiddie to get Harden, and Jarrett Allen and draft picks would likely be included as well. The Nets would be going with Miami’s LeBron-Bosh-Wade circa 2010 blueprint when they top-loaded the roster and relied on role players and veteran minimums to round out the team. 

It got Miami two titles and four Finals appearances, and Brooklyn, too, would presumably shoot to the top of the title odds list. For all the potential issues we just listed, the playoffs are about demanding double teams that generate ball movement, and in the absence of that, having as many players as possible who can create their own shot. Having these three guys able to create any shot they want, any time they want, would be as simple as it would be deadly. 

At least, that’s what Brooklyn would be counting on — that sheer scoring talent can outweigh any and all other concerns. They might well be right. Who knows if this will happen, but it’s starting to feel very real. The Rockets have plateaued. They know it. Westbrook wants out. P.J. Tucker is on the trade block. A blowup is this close to happening, and when and if it does, Harden won’t be there long. He represents too much value for a team trying to kickstart its next era. 

Meanwhile, Brooklyn is playing for right now. The deal makes too much sense, which is why it’s gaining steam. Like I said, buckle up. This is about to get wild one way or another. 


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