If the Nets can get James Harden, they have to do it. Immediately.
Stars don’t become available for trade every day, let alone a superstar, let alone a superstar on Harden’s level. New reports suggest The Beard has grown both uncertain of his future with the Houston Rockets and interested in a future with the Brooklyn Nets.
For the Nets, it’s a no-brainer: Harden plus Kevin Durant plus Kyrie Irving on the same team equals a championship contender. It’s a trio of unstoppable scorers and playmakers, each with three years left on their contracts, something you’d only see in a video game.
There’s a word for it: It’s called a dynasty.
You give up what you must to make that happen, and Brooklyn has a track record of doing so already.
The Nets turned D’Angelo Russell into an All-Star, then shipped him to the Warriors to usher in the Durant and Irving era. They “mutually agreed to part ways” with Kenny Atkinson — who played as big of a role as anyone in building Brooklyn into an attractive free agent destination — to pave the way for Steve Nash. They chose not to re-sign Rondae Hollis-Jefferson last summer, opting instead to let him go to Toronto, and didn’t bring Jeremy Lin back last season, either.
In Brooklyn, all is fair in love and war, except war, in this instance, in the business of basketball. This offseason was always going to be full of unpopular decisions. The only question was the subject of that decision: For a long time, it was Wizards star Bradley Beal. Brooklyn just might one-up itself.
It’s going to cost the Nets everything they have.
A deal for Harden starts and ends with running Brooklyn’s pockets. That means it’s a Nets clearance sale on Aisle 5, and everyone except Irving, Durant and DeAndre Jordan must go.
Nets players, both privately and publicly, have come to grips with the gravity of this upcoming offseason — a pivotal window in the life cycle of a franchise transitioning from pretender to contender. Dinwiddie often joked about the reality both in-person and on social media. For some in the Nets’ locker room, it has been less of an “if” and more of a when and where.
Caris LeVert has been viewed as the most untouchable of the Nets’ young stars — but there is no Harden-to-Brooklyn deal that isn’t headlined by LeVert to the Rockets. And Dinwiddie. And Jarrett Allen, Taurean Prince, and every pick or prospect Houston wants in return.
A deal for Harden, oddly enough, would simplify matters for the Nets next season. Duos get the job done — as evidenced by the newly crowned NBA champions — and trios make for dynasties, but four cooks are way too many for any NBA kitchen. The Nets’ biggest issue last season were players settling into their roles, learning how to play alongside Irving and where to pick their spots with fewer shots available across the board.
When building around stars, clear and defined roles are the name of the game. That means big men who run, block, dunk and pass. It means guards and wings who shoot threes and defend multiple positions. Those quality role players historically take pay cuts and sign on minimum contracts with championship contenders.
The NBA’s trade moratorium is not lifted until Monday at noon, which means teams can’t officially submit trades to the league office just yet. That hasn’t stopped the wheels from turning: The Lakers and Thunder, for example, have already agreed on a deal that sends Dennis Schroder to Los Angeles.
If a deal isn’t already done behind the scenes, Brooklyn should heed the age-old adage: opportunity likes speed. The Nets’ best offer isn’t the best on the market. Two other teams have the capacity to blow them out of the water.
Both scenarios include Harden going to Philadelphia — one scenario sending Ben Simmons to Houston; the other sending Simmons to the Warriors and a bevy of young players and draft assets, including Golden State’s No. 2 pick in Wednesday’s NBA Draft, to the Rockets.
The Nets have an opportunity to leverage Harden’s interest in them to get a deal done when the NBA’s trade moratorium lifts Monday at noon. Remember, it wasn’t too long ago when the interest in stars going to Brooklyn was an absolute zero.
Four years ago today, the Brooklyn Nets were the furthest thing from a dream free agent destination. They were the NBA’s laughingstock, a 20-win organization whose previous leadership dealt its young talent and draft assets for far-past-their-prime Celtics stars.
The Nets swung big on Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry, struck out and paid the humbling price: years at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings without their own draft picks to rebuild.
In Brooklyn, the days of build through the draft are long gone. The Nets’ future is right now.
And it looks like James Harden sees it, too.
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