UNITED STATES—The Brooklyn Nets have been down this road before: Trading a cadre of assets—players and draft picks—to get a superstar. The Nets, per ESPN, parted ways with rising stars Caris LeVert and Jarett Allen, 3-and-D wing Taurean Prince, small forward Rodions Kurucs, and three unprotected first round picks (2022, 2024 and 2026) to get 2018 MVP James Harden.
LeVert, along with the Houston Rockets’ 2023 second-round pick, was sent to the Indiana Pacers in this four-team mega-deal, while Allen and Prince were traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Rockets, on the other hand, got Kurucs (from the Nets), Victor Oladipo (from the Pacers), Dante Exum (from the Cavs), and several picks.
This deal is reminiscent of the last time the Nets made a big trade back in 2013. With the team entering their second season in Brooklyn, then Nets GM Billy King traded for Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Jason Terry of the Boston Celtics. In return, the Nets gave the Celtics Kris Humphries and Gerald Wallace, and most notably, a plethora of unprotected draft picks and swaps.
Among these picks and swaps were a 2014 first-rounder (17th, which the Celtics used to take James Young), a 2016 first-round pick (3rd, Jaylen Brown), and a 2017 first-rounder (1st pick swapped for the 3rd pick, Jayson Tatum). And all the Nets could show for that mega-deal was one year each from Terry and Pierce, two years from Garnett, and two postseason appearances (2013−2014 and 2014−2015).
With Garnett, Pierce, and Terry gone within two years, the Nets performed poorly, missing the playoffs in each of their three next seasons (winning only 21 games in 2015−2016, 20 games in 2016−2017, and 28 games in 2017−2018). Exacerbating matters was the Nets’ lack of draft picks, which meant the team could not restock the roster with young talent like Brown and Tatum.
Unsurprisingly, King was replaced in 2016 by current GM Sean Marks who gradually reshaped the Nets roster with the help of former head coach Kenny Atkinson. The Nets’ slow rebuild led to a winning season in 2018−2019—the team’s first since the Pierce-Garnett era. In the process, Marks and Atkinson turned Brooklyn into an attractive landing spot for free agents, as evidenced by the Nets’ signing of both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in the 2019 offseason.
Injuries derailed the Nets’ rise to title contention, as Durant spent the 2019−2020 season recovering from a torn Achilles, while Irving missed games due to a variety of injuries. This season, though, looks promising for the Nets, with Durant looking like his old MVP self (29.4 points per game, 7.2 rebounds, and 5.7 assists as of this writing) and Irving playing at a high level (27.1 points per game, 5.3 rebounds, and 6.1 assists).
Prior to acquiring Harden, the Nets were already considered contenders. But adding the three-time scoring champ just raises Brooklyn’s ceiling, so much so that Bwin has installed them as second favorites to win the NBA title—just behind the Los Angeles Lakers and ahead of the Los Angeles Clippers, Milwaukee Bucks, and Philadelphia 76ers. The high expectations are warranted, as the Big Three of Durant, Irving, and Harden figures to give the Nets the league’s most potent offense.
That said, it will be fascinating to watch how coach Steve Nash can rein in two ball-dominant alphas—Irving and Harden—and get them to play team ball rather than iso-ball. Harden’s willingness to sacrifice, in particular, is something to keep an eye on, as he is often disengaged when he does not have the ball in his hands. Irving’s reliability, or lack thereof, is worth monitoring too, as he has so far missed multiple games due to “personal reasons,” only to be spotted at parties and fund-raising campaigns during said absences.
The talent to win a championship, though, is definitely there: Three of the NBA’s best players all in their prime. Nets fans, therefore, have reason for optimism, though they ought to be keeping their fingers crossed, too. After all, if this experiment fails, the team’s future might once again become bleak.