How James Harden Being Traded to the Nets Could Affect 2021 NBA Championship Odds

James Harden warms up

Will James Harden soon be wearing a black Brooklyn Nets jersey? (Photo by Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire)

  • James Harden trade rumors are swirling more than ever – reports suggest he wants to go to the Brooklyn Nets
  • Brooklyn has the assets to pull off a Harden trade and pair the former MVP with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving
  • The Nets Championship odds will improve drastically if they acquire Harden

The Houston Rockets could be heading for a deep rebuild. Russell Westbrook wants out, and reports have surfaced suggesting James Harden wants to be traded to the Brooklyn Nets. After working out with Kevin Durant during the off-season, Harden could get dealt to the Eastern Conference to form a big three with Durant and Kyrie Irving.

Brooklyn is currently fourth favorites for the 2021 title in the NBA Championship odds tracker. For months, a blockbuster trade for a third star has been speculated of, but this is the closest they have come to making that a reality. The Nets could be about to form an historic trio of talent.

The table below has the latest title odds, courtesy of DraftKings, with the Nets at +800, just behind Durant’s former team.

2021 NBA Championship Odds

Team Odds
Los Angeles Lakers +350
Los Angeles Clippers +600
Milwaukee Bucks +600
Golden State Warriors +700
Brooklyn Nets +800

Odds taken from DraftKings on November 16th

Challenging Fit in BKN

It’s become a cliche to call the NBA a star-driven league. While it’s true, it’s also a simplification. Chucking stars together doesn’t always work, as proven by the Rockets last season. Durant, Irving and Harden is an incredible collection of talent.

Two of the greatest scorers the sport has ever seen with a top five point guard sounds like it will be unstoppable. All three, though, play with a score-first mindset.

Harden has led the league in isolations by a long, long way in recent years. He had 14.1 isos per contest last season. Durant is prone to over-doing the isolations, too, although he toned it down during his stint with Golden State. Irving also takes over an offense – he was fourth in the NBA in isolations in his last year in Cleveland.

They are all great iso scorers, but other than the spacing they provide, they are not players who will naturally work together on the offensive end.

Sharing shots around and developing a system rather than three players taking turns to isolate is a major challenge. The flip side, though, is that when so many teams are short of ball handlers and players who can create their own offense, the Nets would have three of the best. They would have three guys who can get to the rim at will.

How do you defend against a team with Harden, Durant and Irving? Trapping Harden’s pick-and-rolls will end in a bucket. There is no opportunity to double. On any random night, there’s a good chance one of them gets hot and goes for 40.

Defensive Vulnerability

The Nets had been suggested as a trade destination for Jrue Holiday. Holiday is an elite defender. He looked like the right kind of player to seamlessly slot in alongside Irving and Durant. Harden is an average defensive player (maybe that’s being generous). He’s accustomed to having the ball in his hands all the time, and he’s often passive when off-ball.

It’s very rare that a team with a defense outside the topten in the league wins a championship. How good can a defense with Harden, Irving and a post-peak DeAndre Jordan be? Can an ageing Durant guard Jayson Tatum, Jimmy Butler and Giannis Antetokounmpo on every possession in the playoffs?

The perfect backcourt partner for Irving is a top tier defender who can knock down catch-and-shoot threes and do a bit of playmaking when required, a player who can be effective without the ball in his hands.

Harden and Irving are a difficult fit on the offensive end, but it risks being much worse defensively.

Off-Court Issues

Ian Begley already reported that some Nets players were less keen on the idea of a Harden trade. Maybe those are the players who will get dealt to Houston. Would anyone be surprise if Irving is against the idea, though?

Irving never settled in Boston. He forced his way out of Cleveland because he wanted to lead a team. There was early tension on the Nets last season. The former first overall pick has proven a difficult player to keep happy – how would he fare as the third option alongside Harden and Durant? There are only so many shots to go around – he would have to spend most of the time off-ball.

The pressure would be vast. It will be an intense environment with championship or bust expectation. The Clippers could not deliver in similar circumstances last season. If anything, there is more on the line for Brooklyn.

Durant craves a championship with his own team. Harden’s desire to get traded would be fuelled by a desperation for a championship that has eluded him so far. Irving is still a man with a point to prove after messy departures from the Cavaliers and Celtics.

Super Bowl 55 Odds Tracker

Odds Will Shorten Significantly

Should Harden get dealt to the Nets, Brooklyn’s odds will drop sharply. They already own the second-best price in the Eastern Conference. A Harden trade would take them past the Warriors, past the Bucks and beyond the Clippers to make them the Lakers’ closest title challengers. The prospect of Durant and LeBron James duelling again in the NBA Finals will become an expectation for many.

A wave of money would be thrown on the Nets. Given the fact Durant is coming off an injury and Irving’s health is a permanent question mark, there would be little value backing the Nets if they fall much beyond where they are now. It’s a trio that catches the eye, but the on-court fit is questionable. Harden has gone through co-stars at quite a rate in Houston – what’s to say it would work out with Durant and Irving?

Acquiring Harden will strip the Nets of their depth. It will leave them with no draft assets for the foreseeable future. Some players will take a pay cut to play on a title challenger, but they are not going to have flexibility to put pieces around their big three.

Jarrett Allen, Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert will all get sent to Houston. This trade would leave Brooklyn with Jordan, Harden, Durant and Irving as their core. They’ll have to spend to re-sign Joe Harris. The ceiling of that group is incredibly high, but it could so easily go wrong.

There’s a relatively clear idea of what the four teams above Brooklyn will be. The same goes for Toronto, Boston, Denver, Dallas and Miami. The Nets’ current +800 is a bit generous – that’s around where they should be if they pull off a Harden trade. There’s no guarantee of success, even with three All-NBA players.