The Brooklyn Nets find themselves at a low point of the Big Three era. Losers of six games in a row, the Nets’ dream of a superstar trio blitzing through the league still exists. It just gets harder and harder to picture when it always seems like something else pops up to thwart Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving.
Over the last couple of weeks, there have been plenty of rumors that Harden has a wandering eye. When a very valuable player is openly willing to explore free agency, as Harden has indicated he is, teams tend to at least consider trade options because the threat of losing such a vital player for nothing would be devastating. Exceptions to that rule, of course, include the scenario when a team is very much in contention for a title.
Ask the 2018-19 Golden State Warriors, who had myriad reasons to believe KD might leave them, how deeply they considered moving on from the two-time Finals MVP. When you’re Finals favorites, it’s much easier to be comfortable with that risk.
Still, Harden’s frank admission about free agency and the rumors swirling around it beg the question: Would the Nets dare move him before the trade deadline?
Harden had a brutal four-point performance in a loss to the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday. At times he looked fatigued or disengaged. After the game, the former MVP didn’t do much to quell notions he’s at least a little disgruntled in Brooklyn at the moment.
"We just got a lot of different things internally, lineups, we haven't had no continuity yet so ….
Have they hit a breaking point with all the setbacks?
"I dunno, I've never had a six game losing streak, I do know that."
-James Harden was frustrated after loss to the Kings. pic.twitter.com/z9tGgvaQTq
— DaveEarly (@DavidEarly) February 3, 2022
On the other hand, might this entire exercise be preposterous?
Harden dropped 37 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds in a road win over the San Antonio Spurs less than two full weeks ago. He followed that up with another 30-plus point triple-double vs. the Los Angeles Lakers. Wouldn’t the Nets be outright insane to consider trading Harden after parting with so many assets to bring him in? You can’t hit eject before giving the Big Three a true chance to thrive, can you?
Not everyone agrees it’s that simple.
If the 76ers’ offer for James Harden is on the table before the trade deadline, the Nets should at least listen.
Ben Simmons and Seth Curry would be an acceptable return, considering what James Harden has given you this year.
— Alec Sturm (@Alec_Sturm) February 3, 2022
Earlier in the season, the Nets talked about how Harden was held back because he wasn’t able to scrimmage over the summer, instead rehabbing a Grade 2 hamstring strain suffered in 2020-21. They’ve called him the “poster child” for new rule changes aimed at reducing non-basketball moves. Before Irving became a part-time player, there was talk about how his absence reduced Brooklyn’s floor-spacing, further complicating Harden’s task of figuring out his role as a hybrid scorer/facilitator.
If we were inclined, we could point to a variety of valid reasons Harden hasn’t looked anywhere close to the guy the Nets had pre-injury last season on a consistent basis. We could also worry this is simply his new normal.
The Nets should definitely be worried about losing him come July. They might also fear that dropping $270 million to keep Harden over the next five seasons poses the significant risk of his rather precipitous decline.
There is not an easy answer here. I may be a prisoner of the moment right now. Following one crummy Harden performance on the second night of a back-to-back while he nursed a sore hand, I might be overreacting.
But if I were GM Sean Marks, and the Sixers offered me a package like Ben Simmons (recently vaccinated) and Seth Curry, or better yet, Simmons and rising star Tyrese Maxey, I’d need to think long and hard about turning that down. It sounds like Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports believes Marks may already have that offer on the table.
.@VinceGoodwill on the Simmons/Harden stuff: “I do believe that Sean Marks has on the table a James Harden for Ben Simmons and Tyrese Maxey—and maybe a combination of filler and picks—deal on the table that he’s just not entertaining."
— Bryan Toporek (@btoporek) January 28, 2022
I’m on the fence about the rumored Simmons-Maxey deadline swap; that has me thinking it’s at least worth considering.
Zooming out, I would do everything I could to try to make this work with Harden, Durant and Irving. I really do believe that if they’re healthy, if they had a little time to develop chemistry, they could win the title. But with Irving part-time and a rash of other issues that always seem to pop up, plus the chance that Harden may leave the Nets soon anyway, I think Marks and company should least listen to whatever offers come their way this week.
First, the Nets should check in again with Harden. If he vows to Brooklyn’s decision-making brass, Durant included, that he wants to stay, then you can tell Daryl Morey “thanks but no thanks, call us in June.” But if Harden waffles, then you’ve got one week to hatch your backup plan. Would the Nets dare to trade Harden before this deadline? Probably not. But should they dare? That’s a bit more complicated.