Why the real Brooklyn Nets died after the James Harden trade

The Brooklyn Nets you used to know are no more.

On April 13, 2016, the Brooklyn Nets fell 103-96 to the Toronto Raptors on the final day of the 2015-16 NBA season, solidifying a term-ending 10-game losing streak on the heels of a 21-61 year.

The names in the starting five (Bojan Bogdanovic, Shane Larkin, Henry Sims, Chris McCullough, and Wayne Ellington) should be reason enough in understanding why Brooklyn missed the playoffs for the first time since their relocation.

However, any Nets fan knew Brooklyn was not looking forward to that season’s lottery — but instead actively dreading it, realizing that former GM Billy King’s infamous 2013 mega-trade with the Celtics was going to turn from “future problem” to “active nightmare.”

Yet three years later, Brooklyn was not lamenting over King’s spilled milk. They parlayed Sean Mark’s bargain-basket lemonade into a playoff berth and lovable team of underdogs.

Yet 18 months on, the Nets roller coaster of extremes now points in an entirely foreign direction: a team featuring arguably the three most divisive NBA superstars, following the acquisition of  JAMES HARDEN on Jan. 13.

You know the names: Kevin Durant, James Harden, Kyrie Irving, in that hierarchy.

So why was I absolutely sobbing at 5 p.m. on Jan. 13, 2021?

Because I realized that all I loved out the last half-decade of Brooklyn Nets basketball was about to come crumbling down.

I remembered when still-green GM Sean Marks traded the team’s second-best player, Thaddeus Young, to take a post-lottery flyer on a player with as much boom-or-bust potential as anyone in the 2016 draft. The Nets used the Indiana Pacers pick to select Caris LeVert at 20. The Celtics used the Nets’ pick to draft Jaylen Brown at No. 3.

Before the end of the following year, many minimum free agents came and went, names like Greivis Vazquez, Luis Scola, KJ McDaniels, Anthony Bennett, Quincy Acy, and Archie Goodwin did too, with Joe Harris and Spencer Dinwiddie sticking around.

It was then time for the last vestige of joy for Nets fans, the always-amicable Brook Lopez, to be turned from near-expiring-contract into a future all-star who needed a team to believe in him. He needed to a) not share a backcourt with a legend in a retirement tour, and b) get out out of the national spotlight. He also needed to be named D’Angelo Russell.

Then I thought about how six centers were drafted after the lottery in the first round of the 2017 draft: Justin Patton (16), Harry Giles (20), Jarrett Allen (22), Anzejs Pasecniks (25), Caleb Swanigan (26), and Tony Bradley (28). Instead of having to find a diamond in the rough, Boston had the luxury of literally winning the lottery, calmly selecting Jayson Tatum at No. 3 overall (and netted an extra first for their troubles).

Brooklyn’s supposed core five (LeVert, Harris, Dinwiddie, Russell, and Allen), all players taking unusual paths to NBA success, are what laid the groundwork for free agents to consider Brooklyn.

Now, all that remains of the crew are three working ACLs.

With the core five, I had a glue to root for. I rationalized getting on board with the Irving and KD signings only in the context that they would vindicate the likes of LeVert and Allen. As long as the superstars were winning ALONGSIDE these guys, all would be fine.

With only Harris playing a role on the Nets’ current all-star cast, I had to ask myself during the Nets 116-109 win over the New York Knicks: what exactly I would be rooting for?

Harden, Durant and Irving could literally be playing for any NBA team — they just happen to be playing for Brooklyn. In fact, they happen to be playing to Brooklyn because of the success of the core five, who helped create an image of a model franchise.

Now, I’m supposed to root for a bunch of spontaneous strangers who, effectively, have Christopher Colombused a peaceful (and ascending) franchise?

NBA Twitter legend World Wide Wob put it best:

“You have star power, but this is not the first time we’ve had this conversation around the Brooklyn Nets, trading away the next decade. They built it to the point so they could get here, so they could make this [2013 Nets] happen again.”

And by the time Harden and company hitch their wagons to another taker following the expiration of the trio’s contracts in 2022, the Nets will be left without their young building blocks and draft picks. So I’m rooting for three non-Nets trying to win … on the Nets?

For what it’s worth, the trio could be wearing any NBA jersey; they just so happen to be wearing the one of my favorite team (and damn sexy ones at that). My pipe-dream that the Durant-Allen Texas connection would be enough to entice KD that JA was good enough to keep around, but now I’ll enjoy watching DeAndre Jordan pillage his minutes on the highest level of cronyism you could ever imagine.

Let me be clear: this is a good trade for the Nets, and this probably is the right thing to do from a perspective of championship maximization. But I would trade rooting for a foreign superstar trio for the Portland Damian Lillard experience in a heartbeat.

The only thing I have left to root for: Joe Harris lifting the Larry O’Brien, with Spencer Dinwiddie coming out on crutches cheering him on.

But the real Brooklyn Nets died on January 13, 2021.