Is the Brooklyn big three a good idea?
The James Harden trade to the Brooklyn Nets is the most recent in a long line of NBA blockbusters.
In a three-team trade, Harden moved to Brooklyn, whilst Brooklyn shipped Jarrett Allen and Taurean Prince to the Cavaliers. The Rockets received Caris LeVert, Rodions Kurucs, 2022, 2024 and 2026 first-round picks, and pick swaps for 2021, 2023, 2025 and 2027. They too received a 2022 first from Cleveland as well as Dante Exum from the Cavs. The deal eventually extended to involve the Pacers also, as Indiana traded Victor Oladipo to the Rockets and received Caris LeVert in return, with Indiana receiving the Cavs 2024 second-round pick that initially went to Brooklyn, as well as another future second.
A deep, four-team trade that has ensured the founding of another big three. Following the lineage created by Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and LeBron and furthered by Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant, Brooklyn for the first time in years, have a genuine shot at the title, on paper at least. Whilst three superstars are a desirable fantasy for any NBA team, is it really a good idea?
Brooklyn plays the Detroit Pistons on the 9th of February. Prior to this game, they have played ten times since the big three played together for the first time. Any doubt over the trifecta of ego’s, at least in the early days, have been put to bed, with all three seeming to understand the role that each would have to play to succeed. Averaging the least points, but facilitating the most play, is Brooklyn new boy, James Harden, averaging 23.6 points and 11.8 assists per game, whilst too pulling down just over 8 rebounds a night.
Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are to putting up numbers that you would expect. 29.5 and 27.5 points per game respectively, whilst both sharing a healthy number of rebounds and assists for their position. There is no doubt amongst fans, or indeed neutrals, that these three are three of the best in the entire league. Through their skill and their adaptability to playing with other ball handlers, their calibre is apparent. The issue more so comes with Brooklyn as an organisation.
Brooklyn gave up a lot of draft capital to land Harden. A bona fide superstar was never going to be cheap and it doesn’t feel fair comparing this trade to the last blockbuster completed by the Nets, the massive backfire that was trading for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Harden is in his prime and is combining with two other stars, so it seems illogical to compare him to two former stars who were in their mid to late thirties when they arrived in Brooklyn.
However, the Nets have once more sacrificed their future in favour of the present. All three stars have player options in 2022. Chances are, they opt-in, but then they all hit unrestricted free agency in the 2023 market. If Brooklyn hit the heights that have been predicted, then they have nothing to worry about. What if they don’t though?
Outside of their top three, Brooklyn has an expensive Joe Harris contract and DeAndre Jordan on a $10 million salary per year which seems harder to justify each day. Depth is becoming increasingly important in sport, let alone just the NBA, and Brooklyn traded away the majority of theirs.
The Nets are having to put all of their faith in KD, Kyrie and Harden. This is a fathomable belief given their ability, but they're lacking from the bench, combined with inevitable injury issues, can and will haunt them. Of the ten games played so far since the debut of the big three, they are 5-5, losses including two to the Cavaliers and one to the Wizards, two sides that should be far outclassed by the supposed superstardom of Brooklyn.
Even in the games won by Brooklyn since the trade, they have never been by convincing margins. Their largest win was by 13 points, a 98-85 win over a stricken Miami Heat team. This will almost definitely improve with time but is still quite a surprising pattern to notice. Before their initial defeat to the Cavs, Brooklyn had a 9-6 record. Including that first defeat, they are now 14-11 (as of February 8th), hardly a stellar return.
When the opportunity for a player like Harden arises, it would be idiotic not to chance it. Brooklyn, however, gambled massively on this chance, and fans can only pray that their last blockbuster isn’t doomed to repeat itself.