Notes on Nets' blockbuster James Harden trade, including 'a high-wire act' for Steve Nash to navigate

Ian Begley
·4 min read
Steve Nash with mask pulled down no opponent visible
Steve Nash with mask pulled down no opponent visible

“Will Kyrie play off the ball?”

That was the first question an NBA assistant coach had in the wake of the blockbuster James Harden deal on Wednesday.

And it’s one that Nets coach Steve Nash may have to find an answer to.

Either Kyrie Irving or Harden will have to have the ball in their hands less in Brooklyn than they’ve been accustomed to.

The coach who spoke to SNY would put the ball in Harden’s hands and play Irving off the ball, but said that it will be a tough dynamic to navigate for Nash and his staff.

“A high-wire act, and expectations just went through the roof,” the coach said.

Did Kyrie’s absence factor in to deal?

One team that had been monitoring the Harden situation said that Rockets felt Irving’s recent absence for personal reasons made the Nets a bit more aggressive in their Harden pursuit. Harden’s comments after the Rockets’ loss on Tuesday certainly increased Houston’s sense of urgency to get a deal done.

So those two factors – combined with the Sixers heavily pursuing Harden – helped the Nets-Rockets trade get to the finish line. “You can’t let Harden go to another team in your division if you’re Brooklyn,” an opposing exec said.

Another factor? Kevin Durant’s approval. Durant had been intrigued by the possibility of Brooklyn acquiring Harden since the preseason. Obviously, the Nets don’t do this deal if Durant doesn’t want it to happen.

Big price tag for Harden, insurance for Irving?

Yes, the Nets traded or swapped seven first-round picks in the Harden deal. But comparing this trade to the Paul Pierce/Kevin Garnett deal is misguided. Brooklyn acquired one of the best players in the league still in his prime in Harden. And the club is pairing him with two other All-NBA talents in Durant and Irving. It’s not the same as acquiring Pierce and Garnett at the tail-end of their careers.

The next question for Brooklyn is: When does Irving return to the team?

Irving has missed five straight games due to what the team has called "personal reasons." The NBA is investigating a video that appears to show Irving at an indoor gathering without a mask, which may be in violation of the league’s COVID-19 protocols.

The Nets haven’t provided a timeline for Irving’s return.

A source with knowledge of the situation told SNY early Tuesday that there is concern that Irving may not be back "anytime soon."

ESPN reported Tuesday that the Nets don’t expect Irving to return before the end of the week.

Two people who know Irving well said on Wednesday that it was highly unlikely that he wouldn’t be back on the court. “He’ll be back – he’s not walking away,” one said.

Where do the Nets stand with Irving? If you’ve listened to what they’ve communicated publicly over the past few days, it’s clear that they aren’t pleased with the situation.

Privately, there is distinct frustration within the organization over the Irving situation.

As we noted earlier Tuesday, one factor in Irving’s decision to be away from the team was the recent news that the Kenosha police officer who shot Jacob Blake won't be facing any criminal charges. That event, more so than the riots at the Capitol Building, contributed to Irving being away from the club.

Allen thankful to Nets

Jarrett Allen was traded to Cleveland in the Harden deal. Here’s what Allen’s agent, Derrick Powell, told SNY after the trade: “Jarrett is truly thankful that the Nets gave him this opportunity. He was hoping that he would be a Net for life but he understands the business of basketball. He’s looking forward to starting a new chapter in Cleveland.” Allen, 21, will be a restricted free agent this offseason.

What about the Knicks?

When the Nets traded for Pierce and Garnett, the Knicks decided to make a counter move and trade a first-round pick for Andrea Bargnani. That move, obviously, didn’t work out well.

Will New York feel pressure to make another big move in the wake of the Harden deal? I doubt it. In his public comments, Knicks president Leon Rose has talked about taking a patient approach.

Something worth noting in the wake of the Harden deal? Houston can trade the recently acquired Victor Oladipo starting March 5, per ESPN’s Bobby Marks.

Are the Rockets committed to signing Oladipo to a max contract this offseason? If they aren’t, it’s logical to assume that Houston will at least entertain offers for Oladipo. As we noted in the offseason, some in the Knick organization believe Oladipo would be a valuable acquisition. But it’s unclear how top decision-makers view the 28-year-old.

OddsMoney LinePoint SpreadTotal Points