NEW YORK — Michael, Scottie, Dennis.
LeBron, Wade, Bosh.
Magic, Kareem, Worthy
Steph, Klay, KD.
Now, it’s KD, Kyrie, Harden.
It’s hard to find another Big 3 in NBA history more explosive, more talented, more poised to win an NBA championship than the one the Nets just assembled. It’s also hard to find a bigger gamble than risk-taking, wheeling-’N-dealing GM Sean Marks just took.
Dealing for James Harden is the latest of a string of risks Marks has taken since taking the Nets job in 2016. He took a chance on D’Angelo Russell, took a chance on Kenny Atkinson, flipped Russell into Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, then flipped everything left into the Nets’ third star.
In Brooklyn, Irving finally has the piece he asked for. Durant now has another super team to lead to an NBA title. Harden finally made his way out of Houston. He could play as early as Saturday against the Orlando Magic, a league source told the Daily News, provided he continues to register negative coronavirus tests and all parties involved pass their physical exams.
And the Nets have ended the ongoing chatter about how they’re going to fill out a championship-caliber roster. The roster now goes as follows: It’s KD, Kyrie, Harden, and everyone else gets in where they fit in.
Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, Taurean Prince and Rodions Kurucs did not fit into the big picture. That’s why they are no longer in Brooklyn, with LeVert headed to the Pacers; both Allen and Prince en route to the Cleveland Cavaliers; and Kurucs, plus three years of first-round picks (with an additional four years of first-round pick swaps) are heading to the Rockets.
That is the most troubling part of the deal: Marks has repeated the mistakes of Brooklyn’s past. He said he wouldn’t mortgage the team’s future in any deal for a star, but there was no deal for Harden that did not include every pick Brooklyn had to offer.
It was only seven years ago that Billy King put these wheels in motion. King — like Marks — traded three years’ worth of draft picks plus another four years of pick swaps to land Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry from the Celtics. That trio was well past its prime, and the team lasted just one season before Pierce and Garnett left.
The Nets are in similar territory — except that each of the Big Three are the middle of their primes.
Durant won’t say it, but everyone else will: He has returned to full strength after taking a year off to rehab his ruptured Achilles. Irving is on personal leave but is averaging 27 points per game, has yet to miss a free throw and has been sharper-than-iron in the games he’s played. Harden, in a down season in which he arrived late to training camp and looks out of shape, is still averaging 25 points, 10.5 assists and five rebounds per game.
The challenge for this new-look Nets team will be learning to play with one another, establishing the appropriate pecking order, and filling out a sensible roster around the newest star.
“I think basketball is about playing together and being the best you can be. So, no matter who you are, it’s about finding connectivity and balance within a team and trying to be greater than the sum of your parts,” a tight-lipped Nets head coach Steve Nash said before Wednesday’s game against the Knicks. “So, that doesn’t change no matter what your team looks like, and that’s definitely a goal and a thread of our team from Day One.”
The wheeling and dealing is far from done: The Nets have three open roster slots to fill, and Marks said he was open to both large and smaller deals during the offseason. Depth at the center is key, with DeAndre Jordan back in the starting spot after losing the job to Allen, and Brooklyn still needs back court depth now after losing LeVert on top of an uncertain return timeline for Spencer Dinwiddie (ACL).
Depth isn’t the most important thing when a team is as top-heavy as the Nets are now, and with three superstars, three Hall of Fame talents, three of the best offensive players the league has ever seen. The Nets are as top-heavy as it gets.
After acquiring Harden, Brooklyn is now the favorite to win the Eastern Conference and second-favorite to win an NBA title behind LeBron James’ Los Angeles Lakers. A championship is the ultimate barometer, and Marks and the Nets just pushed all their chips to the center of the table.