The start of the 2020-21 National Basketball Association saw many predict the Brooklyn Nets to have a successful -at least challenge the likes of the Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics, and the Philadelphia 76ers for the crown in the Eastern Conference- but only a few would have predicted what would happen at the start of 2021. The Houston Rockets traded disgruntled superstar James Harden to the Nets for four first-round picks and a host of other players, in a blockbuster trade that involved four teams. The move saw Harden reunited with friend former teammate Kevin Durant, who joined Brooklyn last year with Kyrie Irving -creating another iteration of the so-called “Big 3”.
James Harden had spent eight-and-half successful years (at least individually) with the Houston Rockets after joining in a trade from Oklahoma City Thunder back in 2012. Harden won one MVP, three scoring titles, and 8 All-Star appearances while in Houston. But failed to lead the Rockets beyond the Western Conference finals, despite having stars like Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, and Russell Westbrook at different points during his time at the Toyota Center.
The Brooklyn Nets are currently third on the standings in the Eastern conference, having picked up impressive wins over the Los Angeles Clippers and the Milwaukee Bucks, building up the hype that they could come out of the east or even win the title. Whether they end up as NBA champions or not is determinant on a few factors, and time certainly will be the judge of that.
The “Big 3” factor
Kawhi Leonard created balance in the NBA in the summer of 2019 after opting to sign for the Los Angeles Clippers rather than team up with Anthony Davis and LeBron James with LA neighbors Lakers. This move ensured no team had more than two star players in their team, causing pundits to proclaim that the NBA was finally balanced after Kevin Durant also departed from the Golden State Warriors to join the Nets.
That didn’t stop LeBron James and Anthony Davis as both players led the Lakers to a record-equalling 17th NBA title, and the bookies still have them as favorites to defend their crown this year but the Nets might have a say in that.
No iteration of any “Big 3” has failed to make it to at least the NBA finals in their first season -just ask the 2008 Boston Celtics and 2011 Miami Heat- a record that should provide Brooklyn with confidence about achieving their minimum goal of making it out of the eastern conference. Despite having a rookie head coach in Steve Nash, the superstar tandem of Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving should be enough to help the Nets secure a final. And should they get there, I’m sure they will fancy their chance against any team.
Offense & Defense
The Brooklyn Nets currently possess the worst defense in the NBA, but on the opposite end of the spectrum have the best offense in the history of the league at this point. The roster as presently constructed leaves the team without a bonafide center and rim protector after Jarrett Allen joined the Cleveland Cavaliers as part of the Harden trade. One could argue DeAndre Jordan should be good enough to do that job, the former LA Clippers star looks a shadow of his former self. The Nets have a few roster spots open, and there’s an expectation they will address that problem before the trade deadline or even after that when some players have been waived or released.
The Nets’ defensive struggles and offensive prowess might also be a factor of having an offensive-minded assistant head coach in Mike D’Antoni, whose previous teams have exhibited little or no defense. Head coach, Steve Nash needs to improve his team’s attention to defensive details -regardless of the personnel brought in- if the Nets are to stand a chance of becoming champions in the summer.
The “James Harden” factor
Harden is one of the greatest offensive players to ever play the NBA. His ability to score in the paint, shoot the three, and score from the free-throw line making him almost unguardable, but his defensive ability begs the question -if he and Kyrie Irving will be exposed during the postseason.
After demanding a trade from Houston and throwing his former teammates under the bus before moving to Brooklyn, James Harden has a point to prove that he can finally be a champion. Both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are already NBA champions, leaving Harden the most vulnerable for criticism should not the Nets fail to achieve success this season.
Will Harden be the decisive factor, or will Steve Nash overcome the relative inexperience and lead the Brooklyn Nets to NBA glory? Will Durant prove he can win outside the Warriors, or will Kyrie Irving finally justify his decision to leave LeBron in Cleveland? The Nets are a team with a lot to prove, and whether they end up as champions or not, the eyes of the world will be watching.