In the days leading up to the NBA trade deadline, coach Steve Nash took to the Zoom press conference availability to swear up and down that the Brooklyn Nets would not be trading James Harden.
He left out the word “today.’’
In the end, the Nets delivered a disenchanted Harden to the Philadelphia 76ers in the biggest trade at the deadline, swindling five players in return. Brooklyn acquired equally unhappy Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond and two first round draft picks for Harden and Paul Milsap who, like Simmons, hasn’t gotten around to playing this season.
This is the second time Harden has forced a team into trading him away. He did the same thing in Houston, forcing the trade that sent him to Brooklyn 13 months ago. This was a deal of their dreams for the Nets, who paired Harden with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, giving Brooklyn a “Big Three’’ collection of superstars that would certainly dominate their division and deliver multiple NBA championships.
And it worked, too — for 16 games.
That’s how many times Harden, Irving and Durant found themselves on the court together for the Nets. They went 13-3 which suggests that the “Big Three’’ idea would have worked. The problem was, the rest of the time, injuries interfered with their availability. And then, of course there was Irving’s refusal to take the COVID-19 vaccine, rendering him unavailable for games played in New York, which is where Brooklyn remains located.
Right now, Irving is by himself – when he is available for road games. Durant has a banged up knee that has kept him out for a couple of weeks and Harden sat out his last three games with Brooklyn, resting a barking hamstring.
Harden had been grumbling for some time, particularly unhappy with Irving’s part-time status. Trading the former MVP could be a positive for the Nets because of the package he brought back.
Simmons is a three-time All-Star and an elite defender – something sorely missing in Brooklyn. He is also seven years younger than Harden. But his psyche may require some massaging after he misplaced his shot somewhere and the criticism forced him to sit out in Philadelphia.
Curry is a skilled three-point shooter, another Nets’ problem with Joe Harris sidelined. Curry comes to Brooklyn shooting 43.7 percent from three-point country.
Drummond is averaging 8.8 rebounds per game with four games in which he had 20 or more. Again, rim work has not been a strong suit for Brooklyn this season.
Then there are the two No. 1 draft picks, the first in 2022, the other in 2027. Those are valuable assets, even if the 2027 choice is still playing in high school right now.