The Nets’ blockbuster move to get James Harden has stunned the NBA and made them the betting favorites to come out of the Eastern Conference. Everybody from scouts to Las Vegas oddsmakers expect them to face the Lakers in the NBA Finals.
But the move also left a bunch of questions that will need to be answered, some short term and some long.
Q: Fans are having flashbacks of the ill-fated 2013 trade for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett that set the franchise back. Why is this different?
A: The downside theoretically could be as bad, certainly. But the ceiling is much higher. Garnett and Pierce were a combined 72 years old, and both were far past their primes. Harden, 31, is coming off three straight scoring titles. Kevin Durant is still just 32 and Kyrie Irving is 28.
Besides, that Nets team was never going to be a contender. This one is now favored to win the East and 3/1 to take the whole thing. They’re pushing their chips all-in. As Spencer Dinwiddie tweeted, “we’re in the endgame now.”
Q: What could the starting lineup and rotation look like now that the deal is done?
A: That’s up in the air. We have no idea when Kyrie Irving is coming back, and that’s partly up to the NBA. But once the deal is done and he decides to start playing again — and is cleared to do so — expect the Nets to line up with Irving and Harden in the backcourt, Kevin Durant at forward and DeAndre Jordan at center. Steve Nash will have to test out whether to play Durant at small forward alongside Jeff Green for defense and rebounding, or at power forward next to Joe Harris for floor spacing.
Q: GM Sean Marks said in November he wouldn’t mortgage the future, but here we are. Why were they willing to make the deal now?
A: The need was greater for both Brooklyn and Houston. While Marks can say this had nothing to do with Irving’s personal issues, Harden provides the most expensive insurance policy in NBA history against Irving getting hurt, going AWOL or being dealt. And after Harden’s pouting in Houston, the Rockets were clearly more motivated to move on this week.
Q: Harden comes with a shaky defensive rep. Just how bad is he?
A: Bad. Maybe not quite as bad as his rep, but that’s a low bar. After his apathetic defense made him an easy target for Shaquille O’Neal’s “Shaqtin’ a Fool,” Harden made some strides in that area only to backslide this season. Granted, he is out of shape and was trying to force a trade, but his 117.0 Defensive Rating and minus-1.0 Defensive Box plus-minus are career-worsts and hard to ignore.
Q: Are the Nets done? Their bench is thin, so are they going to ride with just what they have?
A: Not even close. They have three open roster spots and need to fill them. They have the $5.7 Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception, Dinwiddie as a potential expiring contract to dangle and likely a Disabled Player Exception they’ll get in the wake of his torn ACL. That would be worth $5.7 million, and could be used in a trade. Expect them to look to add another big body, and troll the buyout market.
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