The Brooklyn Nets are waisting absolutely no time sending a message to the rest of the NBA that they’re all in for this season and years to come. The Nets traded for James Harden in a four team deal a week ago, a blockbuster deal that saw Caris Levert end up in a Pacers uniform, Jarett Allen a Cavalier, and four total first round picks plus Victor Oladipo to the Houston Rockets. At the end of the day, the point is that James Harden is a Brooklyn Net and will now form a big 3 with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. The 2017-19 Golden State Warriors seemed like they would probably be the most talented big 3 to ever be assembled but Brooklyn is going to give them a run for their money, on paper at least. We are talking about 3 of the top 5 purely talented scorers in the league now all on the same team.
When this move was first announced, I thought about depth and defense as the only downfalls that could threaten this team. I’m not a big believer in the “they’re all players who need the ball!” argument because if there is one thing I have learned over the last decade, it’s that high IQ players who come together to form big three’s inevitably figure that out. By “that,” I’m referring to meshing play styles together and figuring out who is going to play what role. Big three’s make the Finals if we’ve learned anything over the last 10 years, it’s just a matter of if they win on basketball’s biggest stage. But every big three we’ve seen over that period of time has put the pieces together enough to make it there at the very least. That’s why despite my early worries regarding defense and depth, I’ve always thought deep down that this team is making the NBA Finals at the very least in 2021 and I’m not afraid to go on record with it.
The funny part about my depth concerns about this team is I failed to realize that all a big three of this magnitude needs is a few other legit role players around them. When you look at the Nets’ roster after this trade, they managed to hang on to Joe Harris, one of the league’s best three point shooters and someone you can rely on almost every night to pose a threat from beyond the arc. They also still have Jeff Green and Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot, two guys who have proven to know their roles and occasionally excel in those roles. One place this team is severely hurting is at the center position, because while DeAndre Jordan can still catch the lob and slam it home, he’s not nearly the player he was with the Lob City Clippers. He’s not bad by any stretch, but only having him for the center position is not going to work and Brooklyn will have to find a solution for depth with bigs. What I’m trying to prove is that while their depth is not great, it’s also not as bad as I once anticipated it would be. This team kept some key role players and will now have the ability to potentially fill their new open roster spots with some under the radar pick ups. They don’t need a ton, they need depth guys who will accept a small role but execute in those roles.
The Nets To The Finals
James Harden has only played 6 games with this team, and while those games haven’t necessarily gone smoothly, the Nets look dangerous. They may have lost back to back games to the Cavs but in the first OT loss, their new big 3 accounted for 96 points, 24 rebounds, and 23 assists. They were still figuring out how to play together but that shows how dangerous they could potentially be once they do. Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, and James Harden have only played 3 games together on the same floor and are 2-1, but the talent already jumps off the screen. James Harden has looked more than willing to take a step back and find guys with his passing ability for open shots, which is a huge sign for this teams chemistry on the floor. His two teammates are too talented of scorers to have to stand around and wait for him to go iso and dribble out the shot clock, it seems like that isn’t his intent while playing for this team. He seems happy and refreshed to be a part of another organization but also have such a good chance at a ring with said organization.
To me it’s not a question of if this team can make the Finals, it’s a matter of how they make the Finals. Is James Harden going to accept a role as the 3rd option? Is Kevin Durant going to play more of an all-around game (focus in on defense, rebounding, decoying) rather than be the offensive killer he is? Because I can tell you right now Kyrie Irving isn’t changing and he shouldn’t have to. He is who he is and thats an all-time great scorer, something that shouldn’t be changed with this team because he’s already proven he can excel on basketball’s biggest stage, especially with great players around him.
The Rest Of The East
Now don’t get me wrong, the East has a few teams that can really challenge Brooklyn on their first quest for a ring. The Philadelphia 76ers currently have the best record in the East (12-6) with Joel Embiid playing at an MVP level (27.7 points, 11.5 rebounds). They’re 5th in defensive ranking and have 6 players averaging 10+ points. Ben Simmons has really struggled out of the gate and this team is still thriving due to the savvy offseason additions by Darryl Morey. Seth Curry is averaging over 15 points while shooting over 53% (!!!) from 3 point range. Rookie Tyrese Maxey is averaging 10 PPG in only 20 minutes. This team has come out of the gate red hot but new head coach Doc Rivers has changed their style for the better and it’s possible they could give the Nets’ a run for their money in a playoff series.
Another challenger will be the defending Eastern Conference champion Miami Heat. They’ve had a slow start, but it needs to be taken with a grain of salt because of their COVID issues as a team. They’ve struggled to be able to play games as a full team and it’s shown. They’re 6-10 and bottom half of the league in both offensive and defensive ranking but Jimmy Butler, Avery Bradley, Tyler Herro, Kendrick Nunn and more have all missed multiple games already this season. Last season they finished top 11 in both O-rating and D-rating and bring back virtually the same exact team, so I assume once they get healthy they’ll get back to that level of play. Miami is not a team full of flashy names, but they’re dangerous because of how well they play together as an overall team. Everyone knows their role and accepts that role while having the entire roster bought in defensively. They have the attitude of a junkyard dog and with Butler leading the squad, they’re a team that could pop at the perfect time of year due to the early health struggles.
Then there is the Boston Celtics. The Celtics sit at 2nd in the East currently with a 10-6 record and it’s honestly very impressive since they’ve also had to deal with COVID struggles. Jaylen Brown has officially taken the next step in his NBA career with the way he’s been playing to start the year, and Jayson Tatum is currently on the cusp on superstardom. At the end of the day though, I’m not taking Boston as seriously as some people are. They’ve played well to start the season, and they’ve gotten Kemba back, but their lack of a big man is starting to show major signs of concern. I also think that what they’re asking from Tatum and Brown is completely unsustainable in the playoffs. I would be shocked to see them average nearly 60 PPG against multiple teams in the East. While I would like to say Kemba can help with that offensive load, he nearly cancels it out on the defensive end.
As for the Milwaukee Bucks, I love the addition of Jrue Holiday who is one of the most under rated players in this league. Kris Middleton has shown signs of becoming this teams closer and if he can consistently come through, then they absolutely have a chance at Brooklyn. But to me, I don’t know how realistic it is to expect Middleton to consistently close games in a playoff series when his best player presents major issues in the crunch. Multiple teams have shown that if you sell out for the drive with Giannis, he becomes extremely one dimensional down the stretches of games and without your main player being able to execute at the most important time, it’s going to be hard to win 4 out of 7 against Brooklyn.
Who Really Stands a Chance Against the Nets?
I think that the Philly 76ers and the healthy Miami Heat present the biggest threat to Brooklyn in the playoffs, while the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks could absolutely surprise me and also give the Nets a run for their money. But in the end, the NBA has always shown us that talent wins. For the most part over the last decade, the best collection of talent has won the trophy even when the opposing team has the better player between the two teams. So I expect to see the same thing with the Brooklyn Nets who I am already willing to say will win the Eastern Conference. But notice how not once have I said anything about this team winning in the Finals, because Lebron James and Anthony Davis will be waiting for them at the finish line. The Lakers upgraded their roster and got deeper and better defensively while also adding another reliable ball handler, filling all of their needs this offseason. The Nets will come out of the East, but the Lakers will ultimately be crowned back-to-back champions.
You can take that to the bank.
By: Bradley Shatraw CruelFan.com