James Harden’s tenure with the Oklahoma City Thunder was a case study on how to make sure a player’s development is stunted. While Harden displayed the potential to be one of the greatest scorers in the league, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook commanded more touches. Harden was just a bench option.
The Thunder then traded him to the Rockets. This started Harden’s ascent to the peak of the NBA. In Houston, he became one of the greatest scorers ever. Harden proved that he could shoulder the burden of being the premier option on a team. He did so alongside Chris Paul — who, on paper, was a perfect fit despite attitude issues.
Harden and Paul’s rocky relationship was over after two seasons. The Rockets traded Paul for former Harden-teammate Westbrook. Russ actually managed to do a lot better than I expected — I thought he would struggle as a ball-dominant player, but he meshed pretty with Harden and the two even dropped 72 in a game together.
However, the team struggled in the playoffs. Oklahoma City took Houston to 7 games. Then the Lakers sealed the deal and knocked out the Rockets in a 4-1 series.
Now Westbrook wants out of Houston and could end up a Knick. Harden might be eyeing a new home as well. In fact, The Beard could end up following Brodie to the same city — he’d just be in the next borough over.
Woj doesn’t lie and we could have a possible Harden-Durant reunion on our hands. Harden, Durant and Kyrie Irving would form the best big three in the Big Apple since… well probably ever, right? Let’s be real, the only competition they’d have is the hypothetical KD, Kyrie and Zion team up Knicks fans wanted last draft.
The three are amongst the league’s top 10. Combining their forces together easily makes them a top team in the Eastern Conference. But I have some questions.
How would they play together? Harden has to now split touches with Irving and Durant. Irving is good off-the-ball. But he’s tiers better when it’s in his hands. KD is KD and can do anything on offense, so no issue there. But, Harden doesn’t move unless there’s a ball in his hands.
Harden thrives in a system that allows him to be the primary ball handler. He excels in isolation situations as well. The Rockets came up with a great system last season for this called leading the league in isolation plays.
While the Nets ran isolation plays 7.6 percent of the time, good for 4th in the league, it came nowhere close to the Rockets 19.6 percent. These isolations let players like Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie and Irving thrive. Even if you got rid of Dinwiddie and LeVert, Harden would command a significant amount of isos just to be effective. Durant would also get his touches. You’d be limiting Irving and could put him in a situation similar to his Boston days.
On the subject of meshing, how will Durant and Harden mesh? Will they both thrive as Steph Curry and KD did in Golden State? Will Durant takeover, like he did in Oklahoma City, leaving Harden out to hang? Or will Harden’s play cause Durant’s role to diminish?
It’s murky waters made even less clear thanks to Durant’s injury. A ruptured Achilles has derailed many careers. How will Durant be affected?
Salary-wise, that’s a lot for the Nets to take on. An even exchange would still have the team more than $25 million over the cap. Harden’s contract also rises to $47 million in 2023. Irving and Durant would both make $45 million apiece. If you’re the Nets, you need to ask yourself if three players in their 30s making more than $45 million is worth it.
Part of what made Miami’s Big Three in the early 2010s so viable were the pay cuts LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh took. Here, the Nets don’t have that option. Instead they’re dedicating an enormous amount of money in hopes of winning now.
So do the Nets really need to break the bank on Harden? While Harden on the Nets is an absolutely salivating proposition, they’re already a top team in the conference. The East isn’t as strong as many believe. Sure you have the Celtics, the Bucks and, to an extent, the Heat, but are there any real contenders outside of that? Philadelphia is on the verge on imploding and Toronto needs to find a replacement for Lowry sooner than later.
More importantly, what would Brooklyn even give up? The team needs to match Harden’s $41 million salary. Granted, Dinwiddie and LeVert are both expendable in this situation. But even with those two included, you still need to add at least $13 million in salary to balance out the trade. On top of that, the Nets would likely have to throw in picks. Even then, would Houston even accept a deal for Harden?
Harden do needs a change of scenery. Although he wants to go the borough Biggie built, but that might not be the most feasible idea. The Beard might be counting down his days as a Rocket, but I don’t see the Nets in the near future.