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SportsColumnistsBarbara Barker

James Harden trade means the Nets are going all in for an NBA title

James Harden of the Rockets reacts to a

James Harden of the Rockets reacts to a basket during the first quarter of an NBA game on Sunday in Houston, Texas. Credit: AP/Carmen Mandato

The future is now, right now.

The Nets are all in. They aren’t going to wait for Kyrie Irving to figure out if he still wants to play basketball. They aren’t going to wait for their homegrown talent and savvy picks to jell around Kevin Durant. They are going for it all right now.

By making a megadeal Wednesday to bring James Harden to Brooklyn, the Nets have created a big three of their own, and the immediate goal has to be making a run at an NBA title.

That doesn’t mean the Twittersphere wasn’t going berserk Wednesday night as some fans had painful flashbacks to the Paul Pierce/Kevin Garnett trade that left the Nets with no picks, no decent players and no title.

Yes, the Nets reportedly gave up a lot to acquire Harden, an eight-time All-Star, three-time winner of the scoring title and MVP. In a four-way deal that also involved the Cavaliers and Pacers, the Nets sent Caris LeVert, Rodions Kurucs, four first-round picks and four Nets pick swaps to the Rockets, who then traded LeVert to the Pacers for Victor Oladipo. The Nets also sent Jarrett Allen and Taurean Prince to the Cavaliers.

Have the Nets again remortgaged their house in order to throw one heck of a party? Only time will tell, but I would argue that the way Kevin Durant has been playing since coming back from his Achilles surgery, they didn’t have much of a choice.

Durant again is playing at a MVP level. He is an incredible talent in the prime of his career. He is driven and committed and skilled beyond belief. He joined the Nets because he wanted to win another title. Pairing him with Harden, his former Oklahoma City teammate, gives him a chance.

Which brings us to why this trade is not the same as the one that basically turned the Nets into a G-league team for half a decade, even though both cost a bunch of future picks.

Pierce and Garnett were great players who had won it all, but their greatness was well in the rearview mirror when they came to the Nets. Garnett was 37. Pierce was 36. They were big names needed to sell tickets as the team moved to its new venue in Brooklyn.

Harden, 31, has been the NBA’s leading scorer for three straight years and was the league’s MVP in 2018. One reason he has been able to rack up all those points is that he had free rein in Houston’s offense, which is something he won’t have with the Nets. At this point in his career, he might be OK with that.

In eight seasons with the Rockets, he never got past the conference finals, and he clearly believed he was never going to. Now that he’s landed with a team he wanted to play for alongside a player he is close to, it will be interesting to see what he can make happen.

Of course, the wild card in all of this is Irving, who again was not with his team for Wednesday night’s game against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden. Irving has missed five straight games for personal reasons. During his absence, photos have emerged of him celebrating without a mask at his sister’s birthday party and attending a Zoom fundraiser for Manhattan District Attorney candidate Tahani Aboushi. The Nets have said there is no timetable for Irving’s return.

If all three are on the court together, the Nets will have three of the top 10 players in the NBA. Offensively, they could be nearly unstoppable; they will have three players capable of scoring 25 points or more on any night. Defensively, well, we’ll leave that for Steve Nash to figure out.

Perhaps no one in the NBA now has a tougher job than Nash, who was a great player but has coached all of 13 games. Nash is going to have a lot of egos to balance. And there was at least one report on Wednesday that part of the reason Irving was upset with the Nets is that they didn’t let him have a big say-so in hiring Nash.

Nash, who could not talk about the trade in his pregame news conference, did say he has always been a person who likes a challenge.

"I’m a curious person and always try to learn and grow," he said. "That’s at the heart of it. With all the variables of this season, it becomes a more unique scenario and more unique experience. So I relish it and welcome it."

Unique, yes.

We’re talking three All-Stars on one team. That hasn’t happened in New York since Patrick Ewing, John Starks and Charles Oakley all made the 1993-1994 All-Star Game. And it hasn’t happened on the Nets since 1974-75, when the stars were Julius Erving, Larry Kenon, Billy Paultz and Brian Taylor.

Who knows if Nets general manager Sean Marks will regret trading away the team he rebuilt to form a super-team? But you have to give him some credit for putting all his chips on the table.

At the very least, it should be fun to watch.

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