🚨 James Harden Traded to Brooklyn

Wow. It happened:

Last night, Harden formally demanded a trade for the first time. We’d all known he wanted out for the past couple of months now, but last night was the first time he ever actually confirmed it “straight from the horse’s mouth.” Here’s what he said last night, along with Rockets head coach Steven Silas’ response:

“I love this city,” he said. “I literally have done everything that I can. I mean, this situation is crazy. It’s something that I don’t think can be fixed.”

In the aftermath, Rockets head coach Stephen Silas told reporters that Harden would no longer be welcome at practice.

“We felt that it was best for the group and best for James not to come to practice,” he said, per ESPN.

After that, it didn’t take long for Houston to ship him out.

If you’re Houston, you can’t let a guy continue being a distraction and sabotaging your team from the inside. That’s what James Harden was doing in his attempt to get traded. And his teammates in Houston were starting to get annoyed with him, so it was time for him to go.

Houston got a whopping 8 first round picks from the trade, but 4 of them are pick swaps with Brooklyn, so I’m a bit confused as to how this would actually benefit Houston. I’m assuming pick swaps are only used if Brooklyn has a better draft spot than Houston, otherwise it’s pointless. But possibly not, I’m not sure. At the very least, though, Houston got four first round picks. They also got Victor Oladipo from the Pacers, who is a nice 20ppg scorer for Houston to have. The main prize for Houston, though, is the first-rounders.

I also see the Cavs got involved in the trade somehow. They had Milwaukee’s first round pick and tossed it into the deal (along with a second-rounder of their own) in return for Jarrett Allen and Taurean Prince, which really looks like a great deal for the Cavs.

But nobody cares about all the other teams in the trade. Let’s talk about the Nets.

The Nets’ roster outside of KD/Harden/Kyrie is honestly still pretty good. They gave up Jarrett Allen and Caris LeVert, but they still have a lot of pieces around the New Big Three:

They still have DeAndre Jordan, they still have Joe Harris, Landry Shamet, Jeff Green and Spencer Dinwiddie, although Dinwiddie is out for the season with a torn ACL.

DeAndre Jordan is a shell of his former self, sure, and Jeff Green has got to be almost as old as LeBron at this point (I just checked, he’s 34). Landry Shamet really isn’t doing much this year.

But Joe Harris is legit. So I guess the Nets really just have the Big Three plus Joe Harris and Jeff Green. At first it looked like they had some pieces, but upon closer inspection, the cupboard is pretty bare.

This is the projected starting lineup in Brooklyn now:

Assuming Kyrie ever gets back on the court, that is. More on this later.

The one glaring issue I see with the Nets right now is that they really don’t an interior presence. They might be the most lethal perimeter team in NBA history, but they are going to get worked down low.

And they do not have much defense, either.

They’re going to be in a lot of very high scoring games, but who, realistically, is going to outscore them?

I thought this was a good take, at least in principle:

This is technically true. The Nets were really good without Harden because they not only had superstars in KD + Kyrie, but they had some serious depth. I mean, the Nets’ core made the playoffs last year without KD and mostly without Kyrie. They did have a great thing going with how the team was constructed pre-Harden trade.

But when you have an opportunity to trade for a player like James Harden, you do it. You make the trade and then figure the rest out later. We are living in the Superteam Era. Ever since the Celtics assembled the first modern Superteam by acquiring KG and Ray Allen in 2008, the lesson is clear: superteams win.

This Nets team, though, is the first superteam that was born midseason. The Celtics were assembled during the offseason. The LeBron Heat were assembled during the offseason. Some people consider the LeBron Cavs a superteam–they were assembled in the offseason, although a mid-season trade in January 2015 drastically reshaped the team’s bench and brought in guys who would be staples of that 4 year Cavs run of dominance like JR Smith and Iman Shumpert. The KD Warriors were assembled during the offseason.

But the Harden Nets were born through a midseason trade. They’ll have to develop chemistry on the fly, and another big problem is that they don’t have free agency to build out the roster. That’s the key difference here: when you build your superteam in the offseason, you can fill out the roster with veterans and role players via free agency. The Nets will have to wait until after the season to really tinker with their bench and add role players. I guess they can try to make more trades, but they pretty much gave up everything they had to get Harden. They don’t have any more draft picks to trade. They don’t have any more bench pieces to give up. The roster you see right now is the roster they’re going to roll with this season. That’s pretty much it.

Will it be enough? Honestly, in the East, I think the answer is yes. I just don’t see teams like the Sixers, Bucks, Heat and Celtics being able to keep up with them, even though all of those teams have way more depth and are far superior on defense.

Normally when a Superteam is assembled in the NBA, fans of other teams predict that the new Superteam will implode from the inside due to drama, bickering and egos. It’s usually just cope from people who are either jealous, or merely lamenting the fact that the whole competitive balance of the league is wrecked now.

But the doubters are always proven wrong. Every Superteam assembled in the past 15 years has won a Championship: the Celtics, the Heat, the Warriors, the Cavs–they all won Championships even with people predicting (hoping) they’d tear themselves apart from within.

Normally, these teams realize how much potential they have and put the egos aside, at least for a little while. The Big Three Celtics lasted for a good 5-6 years before they got broken up. I don’t think they ever had any serious chemistry issues. The LeBron Heat team lasted for 4 years and though there was perceived #DRAMA in their first year together, mainly centering around LeBron and coach Erik Spoelstra, they actually had really good chemistry and only broke up when LeBron realized Wade was washed after the 2014 Finals.

Now, the LeBron Cavs did break up, but that was largely due to Kyrie Irving. And the KD Warriors broke up due to drama and infighting largely centered between KD and Draymond Green.

So the issue here is that you’ve got two of those guys–Kyrie and KD–on the same team.

Right now it looks like the Nets have the three biggest headcases in the NBA. James Harden had been throwing a month-long hissy fit in Houston. KD is extremely sensitive and has a nasty passive-aggressive streak, and Kyrie Irving is enough of a headcase for all three and then some.

I don’t think Harden will be a problem in Brooklyn, though. I actually think James Harden has the least “diva” in him of the three. He deliberately became a problem in Houston in a calculated move to force them to trade him, but outside of the past month or so, we’ve really never seen James Harden be a problem, a distraction, before. Sure, he didn’t get along with Chris Paul, but a lot of players don’t get along with Chris Paul.

I think Harden will be just fine in terms of his locker room presence. I don’t think he’ll be an off-court problem at all, not even a little bit. He’s never been an off-court problem, ever.

Where Harden could become a problem is on the court. That’s why Chris Paul didn’t get along with him. That’s why he and Russell Westbrook–who are best buddies off the court–could not play together.

Kyrie Irving is the one I’d worry about the most. This guy has become a complete wild card. He has missed the last five games due to “personal reasons,” and when he initially left the team last week, he didn’t even inform his coach or the GM of the team. It looks like Kyrie doesn’t really care about basketball anymore.

I think he’s trying to claim he’s emotionally traumatized from the rioting that took place at the Capitol last week, but then he was caught on video partying for his sister’s birthday. He certainly didn’t look traumatized in the video. So what the hell is Kyrie doing, then? Does he just want to collect a paycheck and only play basketball when he feels like it? His actions over the past week really make you question his commitment to the team and to winning. I don’t know how you can say Kyrie is all-in on the team when he’s doing stuff like this.

No other player in the NBA–or the NFL, for that matter–has taken a personal leave due to the Capitol rioting. I know everybody is different, but Kyrie Irving is not a guy who really gets the benefit of the doubt at this point. It feels like he’s got his head in the clouds and has lost touch with reality, quite honestly. He thinks the rules don’t apply to him and that he can get away with whatever he wants.

And this leads to my main concern: who in the Nets’ locker room is going to hold guys accountable? Who is the alpha presence in that locker room? Who is going to be the emotional leader of that team?

I know people like to give teams championships based on how they look on paper, but so much of it has to do with things we the fans don’t ever get to see, and only hear rumors about. Chemistry matters so much. Teams need leadership.

Steve Nash does not strike me as a guy who will lay down the law. I see him more as a player’s coach, but that’s pretty typical for the NBA nowadays. No longer in basketball do you see these fiery, football-style dictator coaches who are chewing players out and striking fear into the players. Gregg Popovich is the only NBA coach I can think of that fits that old-school, hardass disciplinarian coach mold. But he’s a dying breed these days. Basketball coaches nowadays seem generally more laid back; they’re more concerned with x’s and o’s, motivating and managing egos. They’re not drill sergeants anymore.

Nowadays, the chewing-out seems to come more from the players than the coaches. It seems like the players primarily police themselves and hold one another accountable now. And it really can’t be any other way in the era of “player empowerment.” These coaches can’t say jack shit to the players. The players now have more power than the coaches. Superstar players can get coaches fired in a heartbeat these days.

So it falls on the players to hold one another accountable. And I just don’t see that strong, alpha presence in the Nets’ locker room. They don’t have a guy like LeBron, or Draymond Green, or Kevin Garnett, or Kobe, or Michael Jordan, or Chris Paul. Even Russell Westbrook! Where is that outspoken vocal leader who isn’t afraid to hold guys accountable, get in their faces and confront them when they’re not putting the team first? I’m talking about a guy who isn’t afraid to have his teammates resent him just as long as they respect him.

Who is the enforcer inside that Nets locker room?

I don’t think Harden has ever been that guy. Harden is one of the best on-court talents we’ve seen in the league over the past decade, but I don’t think he’s ever been that confrontational, alpha male Leader of Men like a LeBron James or a Kobe Bryant.

KD has never really been the emotional leader of his teams. Like I said earlier, he has that passive-aggressive streak. Everyone remembers the famous KD-Draymond bench shouting match from 2018; KD could barely look Draymond in the eye. Right then and there I knew: KD was the best player on that team, but Draymond Green was the alpha male of the locker room.

My point is, you need those guys in your locker room. You need those enforcers who will hold dudes accountable. You need those respected veterans who can lay down the law in the locker room.

As for Kyrie, I don’t even think he’s capable of that right now. How could he have any credibility in his teammates’ eyes right now? If we on the outside looking in are this disappointed in Kyrie’s recent behavior, how do you think his teammates must feel? He’s probably got zero credibility in their eyes. You can’t be the guy who holds people accountable if you yourself are, in fact, the problem.

If the Nets had a guy who held people accountable, I doubt Kyrie would even be pulling this nonsense at all.

And I think the Harden trade will only make things worse for Kyrie to be honest. Somebody is going to have to become the third option on that team, and Kyrie is the only one of the three that hasn’t won an MVP. As good as Kyrie is, he’s definitely the third-best player on that team. Is he going to be able to accept that? Is he going to be able to accept becoming the Chris Bosh, the Kevin Love or the Klay Thompson? From the looks of it, Kyrie has by far the most oversized ego on that team.

Kyrie requested a trade from the Cavs in 2017 because he wanted to step out from under LeBron’s shadow. Do you really think Kyrie will be fine with being the #3 on that team? He left LeBron because he thought he was a #1.

The bottom line here is that it looks like KD and Harden were the main drivers behind this trade. Harden pushed for it in Houston, KD pushed for it in Brooklyn. KD and Harden go way back. They’re former teammates. They’ve been friends since 2009. They’ve gone into battle together.

But how much did Kyrie want this trade? We really don’t know. And we really don’t know how Kyrie is going to react to the trade. It feels like he’s going to be the odd-man out, and will not be able to accept that. And this could cause some serious problems for the Nets.

Outside of internal chemistry, these are the biggest questions about this Nets team:

  1. Are the Nets now the best team in the East? I think so.
  2. Are the Nets now better than the Lakers? I think they’re close, but the Nets are slightly ahead, honestly.
  3. Are the Nets even better than the Clippers? Yes. I don’t think the Clippers have the firepower to beat them.
  4. Will Kevin Durant ever win a legit ring? Prior to the Harden trade, the answer was yes. But now? I think KD just lost all the goodwill he gained with NBA fans after he left Golden State. If and when this Nets team wins a ring, I think NBA fans will view it the same as they viewed the KD Warriors: cheap. But it all depends on how dominant this Nets team becomes.

And finally: Is the NBA ruined again?

Superteams aren’t necessarily bad for the NBA per se, but what is bad for the NBA is when 29 of the 30 fanbases are utterly hopeless.

That’s bad. That’s how things were with the KD Warriors.

When there’s no longer any uncertainty in the NBA, then that’s bad for the sport. That’s when you start to lose the average fan.

You cannot have 29 fanbases coming into the season knowing they have a 0% chance of winning a title.

It’s terrible for any sport when everybody already knows, before the season even begins, who’s going to win the championship.

When the LeBron Heat were first assembeld in the summer of 2010, it felt like they were going to be unbeatable. But we quickly saw that wasn’t the case. They went 2-2 in the Finals and easily could’ve been 1-3 if not for Ray Allen’s infamous shot. The LeBron Heat were not invincible, so the NBA was still a great product. There was still some uncertainty. Other teams had hope.

But with the KD Warriors, everybody else was hopeless. The only reason they lost in the 2019 Finals was because KD tore his Achilles, and even then, they still could’ve won game 6 had Klay Thompson not torn his ACL at the end of the third quarter.

So we’ll have to see if this Nets team becomes unbeatable the way the KD Warriors were.

When KD went to the Warriors, it was a natural fit. It was obvious from the moment KD announced his move that the Warriors were going to be unbeatable. The reason was because Steph and Klay were already insanely efficient scorers, meaning they could easily slide into complimentary roles for KD. They were not ball-dominant players, and so they could add KD and nobody would really see their production slip much. Plus, Golden State was a really good defensive team to begin with.

But KD, Kyrie and Harden are all ball-dominant scorers. James Harden might be the most ball-dominant player in the entire league. I think Kyrie’s production is going to take a serious hit.

Kyrie is not a guy who plays complementary basketball. I mean, he could always just become a three point specialist, but that’s wasting his talent. He’s a ball-dominant guard. He dribbles the ball around. He’s Uncle Drew. He’s never been a #3 in his career, and I don’t think he game is well-suited to it. How will he handle this?

I think the Nets are very weak on defense and they have little to nothing in terms of interior presence.

But then again, I’m having a hard time betting against them. I just don’t see any team with the perimeter defense to slow them down. How are the Lakers going to be able to stop them? The Lakers will pound it down low, but I feel like the Lakers just don’t have the perimeter defense to deal with KD, Harden and Kyrie.

There’s some speculation that the Nets got James Harden as an “insurance policy” due to how increasingly unpredictable and, from us fans’ perspective, unstable Kyrie Irving has become.

Maybe that’s true. Maybe Brooklyn has already had enough of his antics is planning on shipping Kyrie out.

Or, what if it’s the other way around: what if Kyrie’s absence has to do with his knowledge that the Nets were getting close to trading for Harden, and he was distraught about it? To me, this would make a bit more sense. Because we’ve seen him out partying even as he claimed to be upset about events that happened in Washington D.C. I said above he’s clearly not demonstrating any sort of commitment to the team and to winning, but maybe that’s actually his goal. It’s possible he caught wind of the Harden trade developments last week and immediately began trying to force his way out.

But the league had better prepare for the worst. Don’t bank on Kyrie going completely off the deep end. I know it looks like he’s not committed to basketball right now, but the rest of the league needs to assume he’s going to come back with a renewed focus. If that happens, the league is in trouble.

I’m going to go back to the accountability thing, though: this Nets team is more susceptible to imploding from within than any of the previous superteams because they do not have that one veteran leader who will lay down the law and call guys out.

We always predict these superteams are going to blow up from within and it never happens, but this time I think those concerns are actually valid.

Austin Frank

Sports blogger

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