James Harden is giving every indication that he wants to bolt Houston for Brooklyn, join Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in the NBA’s next superteam.
Everybody involved would be paying a price for that. Rookie coach Steve Nash would have to figure out how to juggle three outsized personas, the Nets would have to gut their depth, and the players left would recede even further into the Big 3’s shadow. But to make this work – really work – it may be on Harden most of all.
Durant and Irving are already ensconced in Brooklyn. With the Rockets well aware that Russell Westbrook wants out, they’ve privately claimed they don’t want to move Harden, and he’s under contract. This potential mega-deal isn’t going to be instigated by either front office, but by the stars involved.
People presumed the next superteam would be born in Disney, once the bubble started in Orlando. Instead, the seeds may have been sown on the other side of the country, with Durant, Irving and a host of Nets working out in Los Angeles. Harden worked out with Durant as well, and spoke with his former Oklahoma City teammate about joining forces again.
After Durant and Harden’s former Thunder teammate Kendrick Perkins said last week that Harden could end up with the Nets, the Houston Chronicle reported that the former MVP is trying to force his way via trade to Brooklyn. How much force he puts on his current employer may be what this deal comes down to.
The Rockets aren’t incentivized to send him where he wants, but to deal him for as much as they can get. If that includes ex-Rockets GM Daryl Morey – now in Philadelphia – handing his former team Ben Simmons, or some other organization tempting them with a trove of assets, will Harden force the issue?
And if he does – and so far, there aren’t believed to be any direct communications between the clubs, only the stars – Harden may be the biggest X-factor in this potential superteam’s success.
Harden has won the last three scoring titles, but with the second, tenth and 13th-highest usage rates in history, firing off more shots than a kid playing Call of Duty. Durant and Irving are both far more efficient than given credit for. Irving never has recorded a season that ranks in the top 100 all-time in usage rate and Durant has only once – in 2013-14, when he stepped up during Westbrook’s injury and won the MVP.
Durant, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson were prolific winners in Golden State, each averaging over 16 or 17 shots. But Harden’s usage rate (36.3, 40.5 and 36.1) the past three years would have to drop to mesh with Durant and Irving, who both hover around 30. And his at-times-indifferent defense would have to improve.
Yes, Nets GM Sean Marks would have to rebuild the Nets’ depth if he were to give up some combination of Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie, Jarrett Allen and Taurean Prince. And Nash would need to figure a way to get three stars to not only co-exist, but thrive. But getting Harden to Brooklyn and then getting Brooklyn to the NBA Finals might rest more on Harden than anybody else.