The Brooklyn Nets will take on the Boston Celtics at TD Garden on Wednesday, and it’s hard not to wonder about how different things would’ve been if a certain trade happened last January. James Harden is one of Brooklyn’s leaders, but only because the Celtics wouldn’t pull the trigger on a trade with the Houston Rockets.
But as you know, former Celtics GM Danny Ainge just loved holding onto his “assets” and couldn’t stomach Jaylen Brown reportedly being requested in the return package. Boston similarly got spooked out when the Pelicans were in the process of trading Anthony Davis. This franchise passed on two transcendent stars in the name of maintaining untapped potential/unproven draft picks.
The Celtics’ loss was the Nets’ gain, even if they surrendered Jarrett Allen, Caris LeVert, three first-round picks and four first-round pick swaps. The name of the game is big names and scoring, and Harden brings both to the table … and might continue to do so in Brooklyn beyond 2021-2022.
Though the combo of Allen and LeVert are performing better than Harden at the moment (Allen’s averaging 14.6 points per game for the Cavaliers, LeVert is averaging 14.2 for the Pacers and Harden’s averaging 20.8 points), it’s hard to argue the Nets would be a better team without Harden. Plus, the Nets’ offensive system would likely be a lot different if Allen and LeVert were still in town.
Even with Harden’s early-season struggles, Brooklyn should be grateful that Boston wasn’t willing to part ways with Brown.
James Harden could’ve been with the Celtics, but the Nets were willing to pony up.
The question is, what would the Nets have done if Harden landed with the Celtics? Imagine the panic that would’ve washed over Brooklyn once Irving made his stance on the COVID-19 vaccination clear. Durant is having a great year, per usual, but not having Harden on the roster with Irving’s absence might have made the early part of this season disastrous.
With Bruce Brown and Joe Harris dealing with injuries at this point in the year, and with Blake Griffin struggling to score, the Nets would be dying for scoring. Harden’s play is improving as each game goes on, and that’s something Brooklyn is heavily relying on while he continues to find a groove after rehabbing his hamstring injury from last season.
But more importantly, would Durant have signed his extension with the Nets this past offseason if Harden wasn’t here, especially knowing Irving’s situation? Would the Nets have been eliminated from the first round of the playoffs last year? Would Brad Stevens still be coaching the Celtics? Would Ainge still be Boston’s GM? Would the Nets have been able to attract Patty Mills and LaMarcus Aldridge this offseason?
Harden may not have provided an immediate, direct impact from the trade, but you cannot deny it’s changed a lot in the Eastern Conference over the last 10 months.