The James Harden Trade Or: COVID-19, Brooklyn Nets 0

Man, what a time for the power to go out.

Yesterday, while your intrepid columnist was sitting in the dark waiting for Puget Sound Energy to get to me among the 400,000 other customers who lost power in the Seattle area thanks to a huge windstorm that blew through—tip your waitress, I’m here all week—Tuesday night, the Brooklyn Nets, Houston Rockets, Indiana Pacers, and Cleveland Cavaliers worked out a bombshell of a four-team trade that (functionally) sent James Harden to Brooklyn, Victor Oladipo to Houston, Caris LeVert to Indiana, and Jarrett Allen to Cleveland.

Sure, there were some other players involved (Rodions Kurucs and Dante Exum to Houston, Taurean Prince to Cleveland), but that was the who’s who.

In addition, Brooklyn sent so many draft picks and pick swaps to the Rockets that Houston either outright owns or can pick-swap for every Brooklyn draft pick between 2021 and 2027.

It’s a draft-pick haul that makes the infamous Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett trade to the Celtics look like a massive exercise in restraint.

And it is quite possibly the most brain-explodingly stupid reversal of philosophy from a team that is supposed to know better in NBA history.

Lots of people are patting the Nets on the back for putting together a Big Three with Kevin Durant, Harden, and Kyrie Irving.

They seem to have conveniently forgotten that:

Irving has shown no regard for the league’s COVID-19 protocols and has missed so much time for “personal reasons” you’d think he was Jimmy Butler in Minnesota.

Harden seems to be on a personal mission to contract the virus from every strip club in America and spread it around like he’s Coronavirus Mary, and…

Irving turns 29 this year, Harden is 31, and Durant is 32 and coming off an injury that has functionally ended the career of every other player in history to suffer it.

The Nets better win the title this year, because if they don’t, this whole arrangement is not long for this world and there are no reinforcements coming in to make things any better for the next seven years; the Rockets, meanwhile, are going to look in 2028 like the Boston Celtics do now.

And lest you laugh and say the Celtics haven’t done anything, ask yourself “if my favorite team went to the conference finals in three out of four years, would I take that bargain?”

Depends on who you root for, I suppose, but I’m a Pacers fan who’s just suffered through five straight first-round exits with a team that hasn’t won a playoff game since 2018 or a playoff series since 2014.

Speaking of the Pacers, I’ll get to the Oladipo part of the trade Tuesday. Stay tuned.

The Nets were finally starting to put a young core together around their aging stars. Even before they got Irving and Durant, guys like Allen and Spencer Dinwiddie were growing into legitimate NBA rotation players even as the team had to scrape the barrel to get any draft picks at all.

LeVert, who went to Indiana in this deal, was acquired as the 20th pick in the 2016 draft in exchange for three years of Thaddeus Young.

Allen actually has the most Win Shares of any player from the 2017 draft, but Brooklyn had to settle for him because Boston was able to yoink the third pick away from them and use it to take Tatum, a guy with a much higher ceiling than Allen’s got—and Allen’s on the Cavaliers now.

Kurucs, who’s now on the Rockets, was a nice little second-round pickup in 2018, if a -2.8 BPM and a -0.3 VORP count as a “nice little pickup”. Jury’s still out. It’s just his third year in the league.

Those guys were supposed to grow into something better, to validate the Nets’ shift in focus after being one of the league’s worst teams once Boston got to build its future on the back of Brooklyn’s laughable state as the second-worst franchise (gods bless you Sam Hinkie and the Sixers) of the mid-10s.

Sure, James Harden’s better than Paul Pierce was and Kevin Durant’s better than Kevin Garnett was at the point in their careers where Brooklyn acquired them.

But this is a team that now has a backcourt composed of the two biggest head cases in the league—World B. Flat and the Horn Dog. (dibs on the band name.)

Their chemistry problems had them off to a 5-6 start on the season. Harden has been terrible in Houston this year—do you really expect him to flip a switch and suddenly be an All-World MVP-caliber player again?

He’s a 31-year-old guard. It’s not out of the question that he’s entered his decline phase.

And what’s more, he has a long history of being unable to get along with All Star-caliber teammates. He had beef with Dwight Howard. He couldn’t get along with Chris Paul. And his relationship with Russell Westbrook was like a dumpster’s relationship with stuff that isn’t flammable. It was never going to work.

The 2012-13 Lakers come to mind. That was another team with big names on paper (Howard, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash) that through a combination of injuries and chemistry problems proved to be a complete mess, bowing out meekly in the first round to the eventually Finals-bound San Antonio Spurs.

Sports Illustrated crowed “this is going to be fun”, but it was only fun if you were a Laker hater (oh, what wonderful fun it was.)

That’s Brooklyn’s floor in 2021. Durant gets hurt, Irving and Harden can’t stay on the floor either because of COVID-19 or because of good old-fashioned NBA beef, the team severely underachieves, and by the time their Big Three goes on its merry way to retirement or other teams, they’re left with years of being unable to rebuild through the draft, with tons of dead cap thanks to those three guys’ salaries ensuring they can’t rebuild through free agency either.

Call me contrarian, but the Harden trade is going to go down alongside that Pierce/Garnett deal as one of the worst trades in Nets franchise history and right down there among the worst trades in the history of the NBA.

Let me be clear on this (so it’ll be funnier if the Nets win the title and someone quotes me):

This. Was. Stupid.