James Harden Brooklyn Nets
(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

The James Harden trade makes the plan for the Brooklyn Nets crystal clear. They are all-in on this window of opportunity.

Danny Small

The Brooklyn Nets are the proud owners of the NBA’s newest “big three.” As James Harden‘s tenure with the Houston Rockets was going up in flames, it became clear that he was going to the Philadelphia 76ers or the Nets.

When push came to shove, the Nets were the team willing to move all their chips to the middle of the table. They are all-in on Harden and this moment. There are no two ways about it — it’s championship or bust in Brooklyn.

After trading away two of their most promising players in Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen and a treasure chest of first-round draft picks and pick swaps, the Nets need a championship to justify the move.

Early reactions to the deal referenced the infamous Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Jason Terry trade, but they are incomparable. The trio of Garnett-Pierce-Terry was over the hill. Although Harden might not be in peak condition at the moment, the former MVP should have no problem rounding into form in his new home.

The move reunites Harden with Kevin Durant (and Jeff Green). They were teammates on the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2012 and made a trip to the NBA Finals before ultimately falling to LeBron James and the Miami Heat.

Last season, Harden linked up with another old teammate — Russell Westbrook. The reunion tour didn’t go as planned.

However, Durant is simply a much better player than Westbrook at this point in their careers. Durant and Harden are both top-five in the NBA when they are healthy and motivated (those words are in that order for a reason).

Harden and Durant comprise the best duo in the Eastern Conference without a doubt. Aside from LeBron James and Anthony Davis of the Los Angeles Lakers, the Harden-Durant pairing is a cut above the rest.

But wasn’t this supposed to be a “big three” in Brooklyn? What happened to that third star?

Kyrie Irving continues his sabbatical

Kyrie Irving is away from the team for personal reasons and there is no public timetable for when he might return. The mercurial point guard was spotted at his sister’s birthday party and on a Zoom call for Manhattan district attorney candidate Tahanie Aboushi.

GM Sean Marks had this to say of Irving’s absence in a press release:

“We are aware of a video on social media featuring Kyrie Irving at a family gathering. We are reviewing the circumstances with both Kyrie and the NBA in order to determine compliance with health and safety protocols.

Kyrie remains away from the team due to personal reasons. A date of his return has yet to be finalized. In the meantime, we will continue to stay focused on our organizational goals.

Kyrie will have the opportunity to address his absence when he is ready to do so.”

So, where in the world is Kyrie Sandiego? It’s fair to start asking “if” he’s coming back instead of “when” at this point. NBA players rarely go AWOL, but we all know Irving marches to the beat of his own drum.

Irving has talked about retiring young before. If he were to actually go through with it, the trade for Harden gives Durant a reason to stay in Brooklyn for longer than his current deal (which he can opt-out of at the end of the 2021-22 season.

Again, the Harden-Durant pairing makes the Nets a championship contender on their own. Irving’s unexplained absence may have forced Marks to be more aggressive in his pursuit of Harden.

Should Irving return to the team and start playing again, developing chemistry with two other ball-dominant stars will take some time, but they will figure it out.

Prior to the Knicks-Nets game on Wednesday, Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau was asked if it’s difficult to figure out how three stars can co-exist. Of course, Brooklyn’s trio is a bit different from the one Thibodeau coached in Boston, but generally, talent wins out in the end.

Depth is not an issue right now

Depth is not going to be an issue for the Nets. Losing LeVert, Allen, and Taurean Prince — three key rotational players — hurts in the short-term, but the Nets will be able to replace that production.

Look no further than Wednesday for a sneak peek at how Brooklyn might go about filling in those gaps. DeAndre Jordan put up one of his best games of the year. Bruce Brown was all over the court, scooping up rebounds left and right. Landry Shamet might have shot himself out of his early-season funk. And even rookie center Reggie Perry flashed some potential.

There are guys on the roster who will have new opportunities to solidify roles in the rotation. If they don’t, the Nets can look to the buy-out market for veteran replacements. They have options.

This team is built for a deep run in the playoffs and rotations tend to tighten up in the months of May and June. For now, Nets fans can feel satisfied knowing they have two of the most dominant players in the NBA.

The Nets are all-in on this team and this moment.