The NBA got back to business when the trade window opened at noon Monday, and while nothing appears imminent, ESPN and the Houston Chronicle are reporting that three-time NBA scoring champ James Harden wants to force a trade from the Rockets to the Nets that would allow him to form a "Big Three" with superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN first reported Harden’s interest in the Nets on Sunday while saying there is no indication yet they are involved in active trade talks. The Chronicle reported on Monday that it "has been informed" Harden is trying to force a trade, but the newspaper did not cite a particular source.
Harden, who played three seasons with Durant on the Thunder, recently worked out with his former teammate in Los Angeles and, according to ESPN, they discussed the possibility of teaming up again. But the Rockets star has three years and $131.5 million remaining on his contract, and any trade with the Nets would take time to work out and likely would involve some combination of current Nets Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie, Jarrett Allen, Taurean Prince, Nic Claxton and draft picks to make it work.
In the meantime, Nets general manager Sean Marks hit the ground running when it was reported early Monday morning that he completed a deal that will send Dzanan Musa and a second-round draft pick in 2021 to the Pistons in exchange for guard Bruce Brown.
Wojnarowski reported details of the deal before the trade window actually opened, and Newsday confirmed that report through an NBA source. The pick the Nets are trading actually is the Raptors’ second-round pick that was acquired in a previous deal. ESPN’s Bobby Marks reported the Nets will guarantee Brown’s $1.66 million salary, which represents a savings from Musa’s $3 million salary.
Musa was the 29th overall pick in 2018, but he saw limited playing time at the NBA level. Brown has completed two years in a reserve role for the Pistons, averaging 6.3 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.4 assists. His shooting touch has been inconsistent and he needs to improve his 30.2% from three-point range, but he is viewed as a strong defender.
The move to add Brown to the Nets’ rotation seemed ominous in the sense that it could be a precursor to any trade involving current guards LeVert and Dinwiddie, and it only adds fuel to the fire surrounding the reports of a Harden trade. Durant sat out last season while recovering from a torn Achilles tendon, and Irving played only 20 games before undergoing shoulder surgery.
Adding Harden, who has won the last three NBA scoring titles, would give the Nets incredible firepower. It also should be noted Harden has a strong relationship with assistant coach Mike D’Antoni, who was Harden’s head coach with the Rockets the past four seasons before joining the staff of first-year head coach Steve Nash.
Some might question how well the chemistry would work among three players who dominate the ball as much as Durant, Irving and Harden, especially the latter two guards who are used to initiating the offense. In the end, the Nets might stick with the young talent they have developed and try to add a piece in the free-agent market, which opens Friday before signings begin on Sunday.
One intriguing target is Raptors free-agent forward Serge Ibaka, who also once played with Durant on the Thunder. But after making $23.3 million last season, he might have to settle for the midlevel exception, starting at $3.7 million this season and totaling $18 million over three seasons. Ibaka is expected to draw interest from several contenders, but none has the salary cap room to pay major money.