A Woj bomb shook the NBA world on Sunday when ESPN’s top basketball reporter dropped a tweet saying that Houston Rockets superstar James Harden was starting to buy into the idea of playing alongside Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving on the Brooklyn Nets, making the possibility of the league’s next elite Big 3 forming look more real.
Though that doesn’t necessarily mean a trade between Houston and Brooklyn is guaranteed to happen now, if ever, the fact that this is even being reported is huge news for obvious reasons.
A lineup potentially featuring Durant, Irving and Harden – with two league MVP trophies, 24 combined All-Star appearances and 12 First Team All-NBA nods between them – could be absolutely deadly and make the Nets favorites not just in the East, but perhaps league-wide to hoist the next Larry O’Brien trophy.
Sure, chemistry issues would have to be sorted out, something that could be tricky with a first-year head coach in Steve Nash at the helm, and the perimeter defense might prove problematic, but teams with that much offensive talent on them tend to figure those types of things out.
Regardless, all of the Harden-related excitement got us thinking: If the Nets and Rockets really do want to pull off this potential blockbuster, what would such a trade look like? Could it even work financially, with such huge contracts involved?
Well, the answer to the latter question is yes, the Nets absolutely do have the salaries necessary to land Harden.
To make a trade legal, what Brooklyn would have to do is send the Rockets at least $33.0 million in salary.
In order to get there, the Nets would have to put a package together including any three-player combination out of the following group: Caris LeVert ($16.2 million), Spencer Dinwiddie ($11.5 million), DeAndre Jordan ($10.4 million) and Taurean Prince ($12.3 million).
Odds are, because trading Harden would signal the start of a full rebuild in Houston, the Rockets would probably covet two types of players in any sort of deal: young, promising ones and those with less long-term money left on their contracts.
Taking that into account, the package Houston would probably choose is one including LeVert (merely 26 years old and still showing major signs of year-to-year improvement), Dinwiddie (27 and became a 20-point-per-game scorer for the first time last season) and Prince (solid 3-and-D wing with just two years left on his contract, which is one season shoter than Jordan).
However, if Houston wants another proven young piece, they could also request Jarrett Allen, who has shown promise as a rim-diving, paint-protecting bouncy center, as part of the package. Allen has yet to be extended by the Nets, so his salary impact on the deal would be minimal considering he’s set to earn just $3.9 million next season.
Even including Allen in the deal, making it a four-for-one swap, works for the Nets because it would still leave them with eight players under contact with the ability to re-sign Joe Harris and fill the rest of the roster with ring-chasing veterans.
Of course, Brooklyn would also have to send the Rockets major draft capital to complete such a trade, even if Harden does end up demanding to get dealt.
Considering Paul George cost the Los Angeles Clippers an astonishing five first-round picks along with two pick swaps, one has to imagine at least a somewhat similar draft-asset treasure chest would be headed Houston’s way if they do agree to ship Harden to Brooklyn.
Granted the George comparison isn’t perfect due to the fact that landing George also meant L.A. would be getting Kawhi Leonard, meaning they were a good deal more desperate than Brooklyn is at the moment, considering the Nets already have two superstars under contract. Even so, we can still look at the George trade as a barometer for what a Harden deal might look like.
As such, something like three first-round picks and two pick swaps sounds reasonably fair if the Nets do not include Allen as part of the deal; if they do include the 22-year-old out of Texas, perhaps Houston might be willing to take back one fewer first-rounder.
At the end of the day, it remains to be seen whether a blockbuster of this magnitude will actually go down, but if it does, it’ll be a game-changing moment in the NBA, one with potentially huge ramifications down the road for more teams than just Brooklyn.
For now, we wait and see if Harden-to-Brooklyn gains steam this week.
For more on the James Harden trade front, click here.