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Sports

The Five Best Teams Who Can Trade For Kevin Durant

Nearly 24 hours later, the NBA world is still in shock over Kevin Durant’s trade request from the Brooklyn Nets. The two-time NBA Finals MVP is likely to generate the kind of interest rarely seen by any player that’s suddenly available, but the questions are who will be pursuing him and at what price?

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And while there’s no doubt about Durant’s ability to play at a high level— he was placed on the All-NBA second team after averaging 29/7/6 this season– it does exist regarding his soon-to-be former team. Even during this era of player empowerment and movement, the Brooklyn Nets can’t get forced to trade Durant to his chosen place.

With four years remaining on his contract and a desire to either compete for a title or land a massive haul for him, the Nets and Durant could stay together beyond this summer. But what are those odds?

Below are the five best teams who can trade for the accomplished superstar.

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Phoenix Suns

After the initial shock of Durant’s trade request, another one came in the form of his most- preferred trade destination: the 64-win and No. 1 seeded Phoenix Suns.

Upon looking at their roster and assets, there’s an immediate offer that makes sense– Mikal Bridge, Cam Johnson, Deandre Ayton, and an assortment of first-round picks. The only thing to be discussed is if the Nets trade Ben Simmons elsewhere. Under the Designated Rookie rule, a team can’t have more than two players who signed four or five-year extensions after their rookie deals, and only one can be acquired through a trade.

This rule is huge because Simmons signed a massive five-year extension in Philadelphia before being traded, and Ayton is in line for a massive contract this summer.

Miami Heat

Like Phoenix, Miami is another title contender that ranks high on Durant’s list of trade destinations, yet; they have a critical asset that can’t get traded to Brooklyn because of the Designated Rookie rule (Bam Adebayo). But is that enough to stop a deal?

If anything, the Heat could offer a package of Kyle Lowry, Tyler Herro, and a third player attached with first-round picks unless the Nets decide to trade Simmons elsewhere, as mentioned in our Suns discussion.

Memphis Grizzlies

Could you imagine if KD returned to the Western Conference as a Grizzlie? It’s certainly possible given the team’s salary cap situation, their immensely talented, young superstar in Ja Morant, and a trade package headlined by dynamic-two-way big man, Jaren Jackson Jr.

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Golden State Warriors

Talk about what would be a full-circle moment? But when looking beyond the jokes and chaos Durant’s return would create, the Warriors could offer a fair exchange for their former superstar— the newly-motivated Andrew Wiggins, a certified bucket in Jordan Poole, and 2020 No. 2 overall pick, James Wiseman.

Toronto Raptors

Hey, you better not sleep on the Raptors in these trade discussions. Besides the brotherhood Durant has with superstar musician and Raptors ambassador Drake and Masai Ujiri being an incredible dealer, the Eastern Conference competitor has several attractive trade assets.

Anyone between All-NBA forward Pascal Siakam, reigning Rookie of the Year, Scottie Barnes, and OG Anunoby could start a return for the Nets– especially with various picks involved.

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Sports

When Will the Real Brooklyn Nets Stand Up?

This has been a haunted Nets season, plagued by the sense that the real Nets are lurking just off screen. For 82 games, the Nets were largely uninspiring, slouching into the play-in game with a 44-38 record. Before the franchise-rearranging James Harden trade, the Nets’ Big Three of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Harden never shared the court together this year; after the franchise-rearranging James Harden trade, Ben Simmons, the newest tine of the team’s Big Three, has been sidelined by some combination of back problems and his own neuroses. Despite boasting a point differential that lags behind the Cavaliers and Hawks, the Nets still have the third-best title odds, according to Draftkings. This is a juggernaut that’s simply waiting for the right time to unveil their juggernaut-ness, or so people say. 

But the Nets have Durant and Irving, so there’s a very real chance that nothing else matters. While other teams certainly have superstar duos, Durant and Irving are unique in their capacity to create self-sustaining offense; no matter the circumstance, they’ll be able to create—and make—a shot. They’re capital-h Hoopers, in the purest, most empirical sense, shot-makers who thrive because of their skill and savvy rather than through brutish force. Durant, in particular, conveys the sense that he’s mastered basketball— Durant may not necessarily be the best basketball player in the world, but he’s the player who’s best at basketball. When Durant and Irving play together, the Nets score 125.39 points per 100 possessions, which is basically impossible; you could put the late-season Portland Trail Blazers in an empty gym and they’d struggle to equal that mark. 

In this sense, the Nets represent the NBA’s greatest strengths and weaknesses. At a time where players have bent franchises into their own personal concierge service and Adam Silver is begging players to, you know, play, the Nets are a monument to the aloofness of the NBA’s superstar class. Although he finally became a full-time player last month, Irving essentially disqualified himself from 53 games because he felt like it; Durant wantonly misses regular season games to preserve his knees and legs, which maintain a fragile, precarious equilibrium like a Calder mobile. A team with as much talent as the Nets should challenge for the league’s best record, but the Nets treated the last 82 games with such contempt that they still have to scrap just to make the playoffs. Notably, Harden, a player who isn’t exactly known for his professionalism, became so fed up by the Nets’ organizational moodiness that he forced a trade out of Brooklyn, just a year removed from forcing a trade to the Nets.  

But still, the Nets are capable of playing such magnificent basketball that all this bullshit is worth it; it makes sense why the Bucks flagrantly tanked out of a top-two seed to avoid playing the Nets in the first round. Whereas Durant and Irving are the load-bearing elements of the Nets’ goodness, the Nets are so potent because of the different ways that their  bench and supporting cast can be deployed around them. Seth Curry and Patty Mills are elite shooters who expertly slip into the defense’s blindspots for open threes; Andre Drummond gives them the interior heft to tussle with the likes of Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Bam Adebayo; Bruce Brown and Nic Claxton are shots of adrenaline, jolting the team into action with their athleticism and motor. At their best, the Nets can assume a kind of amoebic quality, rearranging themselves around their nuclear star duo. 

As such, thinking about the Nets requires ambivalence. This is a mostly mediocre team that deserves to be the seventh or eighth seed in the playoffs; this might be also the best team in the NBA. While there’s been some grumbling about this year marking the end of the superteam era, the Nets are proof otherwise—a less super team would’ve never been able to weather a season this messy and dumb. The Nets only withstood Kyrie Irving’s galactic, unvaccinated weirdness because they had Kevin Durant and James Harden; they only stayed afloat after the James Harden trade because they had Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant.

By doing so, the Nets proved that they’re practically too big to fail, free to mop and pout and fight through the season because they hold the promise that they can access a level of basketball so transcendent that everything else melts away. At least, that’s been the company line. But with the team staring down the ignominy of possibly missing the playoffs, the Nets are running out of time to realize their purported potential. Eventually, this team will make good—unless they don’t. Famously, Godot shows up at the end and justifies all that waiting, right? 

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Sports Strength

NBA Highlights From January 3rd-9th

With the holiday season and the wave of Covid disruptions (hopefully) behind us, the first week of 2022 delivered some thrilling NBA action, Klay Thompson played in his first game in two and a half years and looked as if he never left. The Memphis Grizzlies and Ja Morant and bulldozed their competition, stretching their win streak to nine consecutive games. Down below are my four takeaways from the NBA’s latest week in action.

Thompson’s return elevates a already-great Warriors team
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For the first time in 941 days, Steph Curry’s fellow Splash Brother returned to action, and it seemed like the old times again. In his first game since the 2019 Finals, Klay Thompson rediscovered his rhythm and scored 17 points in 20 minutes as his Golden State Warriors defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers, 96-82.

As previously mentioned when discussing what to expect from Thompson in his return, the All-Star shooting guard the Warriors’ offense a new dimension. He was fluid in his movement without the ball, successfully drove to the basket (even punctuating his return with an uncharacteristic dunk in traffic), and was sound on defense.

The Grizzlies are entering the conversation of title contenders
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It’s becoming a distant memory when some people thought of the Memphis Grizzlies as a playoff team, who would be fodder for an exciting yet predictable first-round exit. Instead, the Grizzlies, who are three and a half games out of first place in the Western Conference, are forcing their way into the conversation about the league’s title contenders.

Led by rising MVP candidate Ja Morant, the Grizz succeed because their depth and athleticism have produced the league’s No. 1 defense over the past six weeks (Allowing 101.8 per 100 possessions).

Don’t count out the Heat to lead the East
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Despite experiencing many injuries and a schedule that had them play 25 of their first 41 games on the road, the Heat are the third seed in the Eastern Conference– only two and a half games out of first. So what can happen next? A realistic run to the NBA Finals.

With Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo eventually making their return to the starting lineup, the Heat have all the necessary talents and coaching to challenge for the Eastern Conference crown, just as they did in the Bubble over a year and a half ago.

The Nets get Kyrie back but are still struggling
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Even if the season debut of Kyrie Irving (who will only play road games because of NYC’s vaccination mandate) reignites the second-seeded Brooklyn Nets, it doesn’t fully erase their struggles over the last two-plus weeks. their struggles over the past two-plus weeks. Besides a rousing fourth-quarter comeback against the Pacers or rookie Cam Thomas’s game-winning floater against the Spurs on Sunday, the Nets have been fairly listless, losing four out of their previous six games.

And although every team has stretches where they play below their standard, it still feels as if we haven’t watched the Nets play their best basketball yet. But, with Irving now in tow and Durant still in MVP form, maybe that isn’t a bad thing.

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Sports Strength

NBA Highlights From December 20th-26th

Even though daily news of NBA players and coaches having to enter health protocols have become common, it was nice to go through a week where the focus was on the games. Alongside the league’s annual slate of Christmas Day matchups, there was plenty to watch and learn from an assortment of players and teams who made one last statement before this year ended. Down below are my four takeaways from the league’s latest week in action.

Harden and Westbrook represent the line between success and failure
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Besides being teammates twice throughout their illustrious careers (First in Oklahoma City and then Houston), James Harden and Russell Westbrook have a lot in common as arguably two of social media’s most criticized yet accomplished superstars. But last Saturday, we discovered what makes the two players different and ultimately favors one of them to win their elusive first championship.

As the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers competed in a 122-115 thriller that was won by the Nets, Harden’s combination of efficient and timely playmaking and scoring (36 points, ten rebounds, and ten assists) outlasted Westbrook’s inconsistent and ugly performance (13 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists). Despite struggling for most of this season, Harden has found ways to ultize his strengths to benefit his team; an action Westbrook has not discovered yet in LA.

When will help arrive for the Joker?
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As much as NBA Twitter loves to proclaim their favorite player should be “freed” or given additional help, no one is more deserving of either claim than Nikola Jokic. “The Joker” is having an all-time season (he’s on pace to break the record for highest player efficiency rating at 33.33) and could win league MVP again if reinforcements arrive by his side in Denver.

With dynamic guard Jamal Murray’s return from his torn ACL injury still unknown and forward Michael Porter Jr being out because of his back injury, one has to wonder if the Nuggets could make a trade or two for additional scoring and playmaking that lessens Jokic’s load.

Keldon Johnson is worthy of your attention
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Regardless of how you’re watching the NBA on a nightly basis, there’s one player who is worthy of your time: Keldon Johnson. The third-year San Antonio Spur, who you may remember as a late-minute addition to the US Men’s gold-medal-winning basketball team last summer, is quickly becoming one of the team’s best players, and rightfully so.

Johnson is averaging a career-high in points and rebounds per game (15 and 6.6) while also shooting a remarkable 47% from the three-point line. The Kentucky product’s development is a more than welcomed sign for the Spurs, who already have a promising talent in Dejounte Murray.

Houston is balancing Jalen Green’s development and their desire to compete
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While some teams love to have dynamic, young talent and still collect high lottery picks, others are fine with having young talent who could help them win right away (Think Evan Mobley and Cleveland). Even though the Houston Rockets, and their 2021 No. 2 overall pick Jalen Green, aren’t in a position to compete for the playoffs, they’re happy with being competitive and making each other better.

Despite the team’s seven-game winning streak earlier this month without Green because of his injury, the Rockets would rather have him on the court. Out of 19 games played, Green has scored 20 points five times and proves to be a viable offensive threat with his athleticism and, at times-solid shooting. It’s just a matter of making him more effective while also eliminating their tendency for extensive losing streaks.

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Sports Strength

What We Learned From This Year’s NBA On Christmas Games

Amidst all the concerns about rising COVID cases and player entries in their health protocols, the NBA managed to have another star-studded and exciting day of Christmas Day games. Whether it was Kemba Walker achieving a first-time accomplishment to both of the last-minute thrillers that occurred in Phoenix and Los Angeles, here are our three biggest takeaways from this year’s NBA on Christmas games.

Kemba is making the most of his return to action
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There was an ongoing discussion regarding Kemba Walker and his career for three weeks due to his surprise benching by New York Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau— who attributed Walker’s benching to his lack of aggression. But over the past week, the former All-Star guard is not only playing again, but he’s making history in the process.

During the team’s 101-87 victory against their close rival Atlanta Hawks, Walker produced a triple-double (10 points, 10 rebounds, and 12 assists) and became the first Knick to accomplish that feat on Christmas. “It’s kind of hard to put it into words, to be honest,” Walker said after the game. “It was special, just to be home, with that New York on my chest … a New York City kid, born and raised. It felt amazing.”

Giannis proves why he’s the best player in the world
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Even though the conversation about who is the best player will always exist, there are times where there’s a clear answer. Last Saturday, Antetokounmpo presented an open and shut case for his claim as the best player in the league via his spectacular second-half performance against the Boston Celtics.

When looking beyond the reigning Finals MVP’s stat-line (36 points, 12 rebounds, and five assists), Antetokounmpo’s impact on both ends of the floor became a massive obstacle for the Celtics to overcome, despite leading by double digits throughout the game, including with five minutes remaining in regulation.

The Warriors and Nets proved their toughness in last-minute thrillers
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During primetime matchups such as the Golden State Warriors vs. the Phoenix Suns or the Brooklyn Nets vs. Los Angeles Lakers, the idea of a measuring test existing between either team comes to life. And while there was much to observe in both of those two games, one thing was for sure. The Warriors and the Nets are the best teams in their conferences.

Even with several key contributors and stars out of action and playing in challenging environments, the Nets and Warriors relied on their toughness and “next man up” mentality to secure a pair of big wins. At this point of the season, speculation could be created for a potential Finals matchup between these two teams.

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Sports Strength

NBA Highlights From December 6th-12th

On any given night, NBA Twitter is abuzz with reminders to appreciate Lebron James or Kevin Durant while they’re still active. This week, they gave us ample opportunities to do so. To be sure, though, they weren’t the only players in the league to have notable performances. Down below are our four takeaways from it!

LeBron and KD continue to add to their highlight reels
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While their greatness gets anticipated on a nightly basis, James and Durant somehow surpassed even the loftiest of expectations this past week. In addition to leading their teams to a combined 6-2 record, the pair of former NBA Finals MVPs produced one signature performance after another.

Between Durant scoring 51 points, the most scored by a player this season, and James becoming the oldest player in league history to produce a 30-point triple-double on Sunday night, it only served as additional highlights on their overwhelmingly extensive resumes.

Kelly Oubre Jr is becoming must-watch TV
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Despite his obvious talents, Kelly Oubre Jr. has flown under the radar and hasn’t really showcased the true breadth of his abilities. But throughout this month, the 6-foot-6 swingman has played the best basketball of his NBA career, and it couldn’t have come at a better time for the playoff-contending Charlotte Hornets.

Oubre Jr is not only averaging 26 points per game since December 1st, but he’s helping the Hornets as an additional playmaker who takes some pressure off of star point guard LaMelo Ball. And the Kansas product should be applauded for being a willing rebounder, too, as he snagged ten rebounds against the Philadelphia 76ers last Saturday night.

Luka’s conditioning is now in the spotlight
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Although many things said on social media about NBA players and teams don’t gain any traction, the conversations surrounding Luka Doncic and his conditioning have only gotten louder. Ever since he arrived in the league, the Mavericks’ superstar has thrived despite not being in top shape, and fans have wondered what it would be like if he were.

But with his recent ankle injury expected to have him out for multiple games, Doncic’s health is being examined more than ever. Alongside dealing with various ailing injuries over the years, Doncic has struggled with his weight and conditioning, especially with the star confirming his issue of staying in playing shape.

The LA Clippers have discovered another talent in Brandon Boston Jr
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When people think about the Los Angeles Clippers, they immediately think of Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, but the franchise has quietly become one of the league’s best talent developers. This season, Terrence Man has built on the role that he established in last year’s playoffs and second-round rookie Brandon Boston Jr. has wormed his way into the rotation.

The 2021 second-round pick from the University of Kentucky had his best NBA game against the Boston Celtics last Saturday. Boston Jr scored 27 points and was a marksman from downtown, making five out of eight three-pointers. Even though George and, eventually, Leonard will determine the Clippers’ immediate success, their team’s ceiling could be defined the development of its promising young talents.

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Sports Strength

NBA Highlights From November 8th-14th

While we’re at that time of the NBA season where everyone prematurely claims a specific player or team to be “back,” the Golden State Warriors indeed appear to be the team they once were a couple of years ago. And in the spirit of confirming one’s return or new status solidified across the league, there is much to discuss between the likes of the Washington Wizards and Paul George. Down below are my four takeaways from the NBA’s latest week in action!

Yeah, the Warriors found their swagger back
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Even though various fans, media members, and even the rest of the NBA enjoyed Golden State’s struggles over the previous two seasons (59-83 in the regular season and no playoff appearances), an organization of the Warriors’ caliber wasn’t going to struggle for much longer. As we’re approaching the end of the NBA’s opening month, the Warriors aren’t only good; they’re potentially the best team in the league.

Whether it’s because of Stephen Curry leading the way and producing another all-time MVP-caliber season in the process or because of their deep collection of depth and youth, the Warriors’ 11-2 start is legitimate. And amid the Warriors’ hot start, you should remember that they’re doing this without All-Star guard Klay Thompson, who is inching his way back to the court following two consecutive season-ending injuries.

Put some respect on Paul George’s name!
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As easy as it has been for NBA Twitter and other viewers to criticize and make fun of Paul George’s failures consistently, it’s only right his success gets highlighted the same way! PG13 has elevated his game to begin this season following his redemptive postseason performance this summer, and the Los Angeles Clippers couldn’t be more grateful about it.

Alongside averaging 26 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists per game while also providing two-plus steals per game, George’s leadership and clutch play have lifted the Clippers into early postseason contention at 9-5, which included a seven-game winning streak. With fellow star teammate Kawhi Leonard still out with a torn ACL, George has and will accept the responsibility of leading the Clippers until further notice.

James Harden is slowly but surely regaining his rhythm
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In recent weeks, one of the more common things to watch and react to as NBA fans is players getting used to these new foul rules. The league’s greater focus on not calling fouls created by unusual moves by ballhandlers has impacted various stars, most notably James Harden. But despite his slow start to this season, the Brooklyn Nets superstar might be heading in the right direction.

Harden had his best game of this young season by producing a 39-point and 12-assist performance against the New Orleans Pelicans last Friday night (yes, we know it’s the Pelicans) while also maintaining a solid mini-stretch of basketball. Since Nov. 7th, Harden has averaged 23/8/9 while shooting 47% from the field. And as for the free throws? The “Beard” did attempt 15 freebies against the Pelicans.

The Suns are playing like the team who made the NBA Finals

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For any of the teams that made the NBA Finals and lost, it was customary for them to have a slow start the following season, and the Phoenix Suns joined that group because of their 1-3 start. But unlike their counterparts, the Suns have flipped the switch, and as winners of seven consecutive games, they’ve looked every bit of the team that not only made last year’s NBA Finals but was two games away from winning it all.

In between obtaining notable wins over the Cleveland Cavaliers and Memphis Grizzlies, the Suns currently have six players averaging double-digit points per game, and that number could reach eight if Cameron Payne and JaVale McGee round out their scoring production to double digits too.

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Why the Kyrie Irving News Does Not Matter

Ugh, okay: let’s talk about Kyrie Irving. For years, Irving has been a one-man uncertainty principle, zooming back and forth in the nebulous space between achieving enlightenment and being a total rube. He’s absurdly easy to meme–Kyrie burns sage! The earth is flat! What does government mean to you?—but his peculiarity has always possessed an endearing earnestness; he never seemed selfish or malicious as much as a guy who gets all his news from the comments section on a Joe Rogan YouTube clip. By refusing to get vaccinated, though, Irving crosses the rubicon from galaxy-brained to public health hazard, theoretically endangering the Nets’ championship aspirations and respiratory systems. 

As an “anonymous” source who definitely isn’t Irving’s agent in a trenchcoat and fake glasses told The Athletic’s Shams Charania, “Kyrie wants to be a voice for the voiceless.”

Cool.

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Lost in all the hubbub about Irving’s jab-lessness and subsequent leave of absence is a simple truth: this isn’t actually important. Although Irving is once again providing soap opera-y grist for NBA Twitter, the Brooklyn Nets are functionally disaster-proof—it’s immaterial whether Kyrie plays 82 games or 41 or zero. The Nets have assembled such an insane amount of talent that their virtuosity produces something like basketball nihilism. In fact, short of every ligament in both James Harden’s and Kevin Durant’s bodies snapping like rubber bands, the Nets are so good, nothing really matters.  

Last year, Irving dropped any pretense of being a “traditional” point guard and emerged as the NBA’s most dangerous and stylish scoring guard, posting nearly 27 points per game on all-history efficiency. This year, the Nets are still the overwhelming title favorites while Irving remains exiled in an Elba of his own creation. Even after the Nets announced that Irving wouldn’t be allowed to join the team in any capacity until he gets vaccinated (the state of New York already mandated that only vaccinated Nets could play at Barclays Center), their championship odds remained practically unchanged, slipping from +195 to +200

 Since trading for James Harden last winter, the beauty of the Nets has been their stars’ extreme self-reliance. Whereas other players require certain situations to thrive (see: the brouhaha over the Ben Simmons/Joel Embiid fit), the Nets are almost context-agnostic. In Houston, Harden operated as a one-man offense, conjuring a string of top-ten outfits despite largely sharing the court with non-dribbling unitaskers. Similarly, Durant’s brand of scoring seems closer to golf than it does to basketball—Durant is so tall and so skilled that defenders practically melt away, leaving him playing against himself; against Milwaukee in last year’s playoffs, Durant nearly single-handedly defeated the Bucks while Irving nursed an ankle injury and Harden  gimped through the back half of the series after missing the first four games. 

Beyond Durant and Harden, the Nets will be able to absorb Irving’s lost production by committee. By dint of Durant and Harden not really being guardable and demanding constant defensive attention, the flaws of Brooklyn’s supporting cast evaporate. Whereas Bruce Brown was once a guard who couldn’t really shoot or dribble, suddenly, he was reinvented as a quasi-center, setting screens and lurking in the dunker spot. Before coming to Brooklyn, Blake Griffin hadn’t dunked in an NBA game for 464 days; as a Net, he rediscovered enough oomph to hang with the Bucks’ massive frontcourt in the playoffs. The Nets place such cognitive stress on defenses that any minor lapses quickly compound into major breakdowns. Trap a James Harden pick-and-roll too aggressively and Bruce Brown will slip into open space on the short roll against an outnumbered defense. Close out too tightly on Kevin Durant and watch the Nets’ drive-and-kick attack quickly animate with whirring motion. 

While the Nets’ Big Three is obviously best at full-strength, there are diminishing returns on each of their considerable individual talents when the three are stacked together; as long as the Nets had at least one of Durant, Harden or Irving on the court, they scored at a rate at least equivalent to the NBA’s best offense of all time per PBP Stats—and when Durant and Harden played together, the Nets averaged 124.61 points per 100 possessions, a clownishly good figure. Moreover, according to Cleaning the Glass, the Nets were only 1.9 points per 100 possessions better when Irving was on the court than when he was on the bench (for what it’s worth, Harden was only +0.9 per 100 possessions); when the baseline level of performance is already so historically high, the presence of even more talent is just gilding on the lily.

In this sense, the very idea of adding Harden to this mix wasn’t to raise their ceiling; rather, Harden fortified their floor, offering insurance against Durant’s and Irving’s general injured-ness and flakiness. With or without Irving, the Nets are the best team in the Eastern Conference, if not the entire NBA. Something gold can stay.