Will the Brooklyn Nets be the home of the NBA's next Big Three?
According to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, Ramona Shelburne and Zach Lowe, the Nets are "rising to the top" of James Harden's list should he want out of Houston.
Wojnarowski added that the Rockets continue to tell teams they plan to "run it back" with Harden this season and that there have been no discussions between the Rockets and Nets, but it appears as though the ball is in Harden's court.
ESPN Sources with @RamonaShelburne and @ZachLowe_NBA: As Houston's James Harden considers his future with franchise, one possible trade destination is rising to top of his list: Brooklyn. The idea of reuniting with Kevin Durant and joining Kyrie Irving is resonating with Harden.- Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) November 15, 2020
So ... should Harden push for a trade to the Nets if he decides to move on from the Rockets? Let's take a closer look at why he should and shouldn't.
Why it would work
First things first, we can assume any trade involving Harden to the Nets wouldn't include Kyrie Irving or Kevin Durant. It wouldn't be all that difficult for the Nets to match salaries without them, as Caris LeVert, Taurean Prince and Spencer Dinwiddie get them in the ballpark of Harden's salary for the upcoming season.
Regardless of who they would have to give up, Irving, Harden and Durant would make for one of the most dynamic Big Threes in NBA history. They're each used to being the No. 1 option - more on that in a bit - but they're super talented players who can do almost anything on a basketball court.
As currently constructed, it's hard to think of a team in the league that could match up with them. Irving has long been one of the best pick-and-roll and isolation scorers at the guard position, capable of scoring at all three levels at a high rate. Harden has led the league in scoring in three straight seasons, and there's a case to be made that he's the best isolation scorer in NBA history. (He's led the league in isolation scoring in each of the last five seasons, peaking in 2018-19 with 18.1 points per game in isolation). Time will tell what his game looks like coming off of an Achilles tear, but at his best, Durant is as close to unguardable as it gets.
Pair them with two shooters (Joe Harris and whoever else they re-sign or pick up in free agency) or a shooter and a rim-runner (Harris and DeAndre Jordan), and you have the makings of the best offence in the league.
I was already over 2020 but if James goes to Brooklyn then I'll see yall 2022 cause they got 2021 😂😂😂- Josh Hart (@joshhart) November 15, 2020
For it to work, each one of them would have to make sacrifices. The good news? They're each good enough shooters to make it work.
Since the 2016-17 season, Harden has made 39.4 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts. Irving (44.3 percent) and Durant (44.4 percent) have been even better. Unless the Nets were to surround them with two complete non-shooters, which is highly unlikely considering Steve Nash will be the one pulling the strings from the sideline with some help from Mike D'Antoni, spacing wouldn't likely be an issue because none of them can be ignored when they don't have the ball in their hands.
To boot, Durant is an excellent scorer off of screens. He's still at his best when he has the ball in his hands, but he has more experience playing off-ball than both Irving and Harden.
The scariest part is the Nets would have the option of having one of Irving, Harden and Durant on the court at all times. Their depth would almost certainly take a hit if they were to trade for Harden, but they should still have enough to build legitimate lineups around them. That would come especially in handy if either one of them were to miss time with injuries.
Why it wouldn't work
This is pretty simple: Irving, Harden and Durant make for a lot of mouths to feed.
In 2019-20, only Giannis Antetokounmpo had a higher usage rating than Harden. In the 2018-19 - the last time they were healthy - Irving and Durant ranked 19th and 21st, respectively, in usage rating.
That might not seem so bad on the surface, but Irving and Durant were playing in systems built on ball movement and player movement. Nash could very well look to install similar principles in Brooklyn as Brad Stevens has in Boston and Steve Kerr has in Golden State, but it doesn't change the fact that Irving, Harden and Durant are three players who are used to having the offence run through them and are at their best when they're the one making plays.
To make matters more complicated, Durant is coming off an Achilles tear that sidelined him for the entire 2019-20 season. While I'm optimistic that his game won't change all that much, regaining his rhythm while figuring out his new teammates, his new coaching staff and his new situation is ... a lot.
It doesn't help that Irving and Harden both have the reputation of being ball stoppers. Again, the two of them are good enough shooters to play off-ball, but that alone doesn't mean they would be able to play well off of each other and Durant. Whether it was the Boston Celtics or Miami Heat, we've seen how much sacrifice it takes to make a Big Three work. Would Irving be willing to make some of the same sacrifices Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen did in Boston or Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh did in Miami? What about Harden and Durant?
It would be fascinating to see the dynamics between the three of them in crunch time, when they're all used to being the ones calling the shots. Something as simple as a pick-and-roll between Irving and Durant would be incredibly difficult to stop whether teams play it traditionally or decide to switch, but that would likely leave Harden standing on the perimeter. Same for Irving if Harden and Durant were the ones running the pick-and-roll. However you draw it up, one of them is likely to be left out.
The one saving grace is Durant and Harden have played together before - alongside another high usage player in Russell Westbrook, no less - while Irving was a part of a Big Three in Cleveland. Durant has also played on a super-duper team before in Golden State. Still, there are no guarantees.
The Nets might also have problems on the other end of the court. As talented of an offensive player as Irving is, he's never been known as much of a defender. Same for Harden, although he at least has the size to switch onto bigger players. Durant is an All-Defence calibre of player when he's locked in, but again, he's coming off of a serious injury that could rob him of some of the speed and athleticism that helped him become such an impactful defender with the Thunder and Warriors.
Does that mean a trio of Irving, Harden and Durant would be destined for failure? Absolutely not. But there's enough concern for this to not be a no-brainer.
The views expressed here do not represent those of the NBA or its clubs.