The Brooklyn Nets just shook up the NBA landscape by completing a blockbuster trade for James Harden. The Nets sacrificed most of their youth and future flexibility to create a big three of Harden, Kevin Durant, and Kyrie Irving.
Sources: Full current trade:— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) January 13, 2021
Rockets: Victor Oladipo, Dante Exum, Rodions Kurucs, 3 BKN first-rounders (22, 24, 26), 1 MIL first (22, unprotected), 4 BKN 1st round swaps (21, 23, 25, 27)
Nets: James Harden
Pacers: Caris LeVert, 2nd-rounder
Cavs: Jarrett Allen, Taurean Prince
If it wasn’t clear already, Brooklyn has gone all-in on winning a title this season or next year before Harden’s contract runs out. That puts them in direct competition with the Clippers, along with a few other contenders around the league, so it’s worth considering how this roster shakeup would affect the Nets in a potential series against the Clippers.
After the trade, Brooklyn would have three dominant isolation scorers in their starting lineup. Fortunately, the Clippers have two of the most dominant wing defenders in the league, along with Patrick Beverley, Nic Batum, and Serge Ibaka. Beverley would probably start on Harden, as Irving is a little too shifty for him at this stage in the Clipper guard’s career. That would put Paul George on Irving, and the Clippers have to feel good about George’s length and ability to maneuver through screens in that matchup. LA could probably go by committee on Durant, alternating Kawhi Leonard and Batum, and even switching Ibaka onto his former teammate in a pinch.
Ivica Zubac has historically been an effective rim deterrent for Harden, and Marcus Morris Sr. is another capable wing to throw at Durant if the Clippers need more bodies.
The point is that the Clippers shouldn’t be too concerned about how they match up defensively with Brooklyn. There’s no way to actually stop the Nets considering their level of total offensive talent, especially with Joe Harris and Landry Shamet as shooters spacing the floor, and Jeff Green and DeAndre Jordan as lob threats (though no one on Brooklyn is a great lob passer). But the personnel lines up as well as possible with the Clippers. The key is that the Nets don’t have a burly, back-to-the-basket scorer, like Anthony Davis or Nikola Jokic, who have given the Clippers trouble in the past. The Clippers are best suited to deal with perimeter players.
On the flip side, it’s hard to see how the Nets would be able to handle the Clippers offense. They could try to switch everything with Harris and Green joining the three stars on the court, and that might be able to stunt some of the Clippers’ flow. However, the Clippers could go to Leonard or George in isolation in a pinch, and there are no good answers for them on the Brooklyn roster. Truthfully, there aren’t good answers for Leonard and George on most rosters, but the Nets only have a few plus defenders in Bruce Brown and potentially Green and Durant. Jordan is a little past his prime on that end and would be out of his element defending in space against the Clippers.
Fun fact: Leonard and Durant’s teams faced each other in the postseason every year from 2016 to 2019, but because of a variety of injuries, the two were only on the court together for about seven games total. It certainly would be exciting to see two of the defining players of this generation be healthy in a matchup on the NBA’s biggest stage.
It’s obviously very early in the process for both Brooklyn and LA to make definitive proclamations about where they stand as teams. The Nets haven’t played a game yet with their three stars, and one of them is on sabbatical. Meanwhile, the Clippers have only really flashed their defensive potential on a few occasions, despite boasting a lot of talent on that end of the floor.
However, even though a superteam has formed in the Eastern Conference, the Clippers shouldn’t feel threatened by their creation. LA still has the capability to hang with any team in the NBA, provided the Clippers execute at or near or their peak. There were places Harden could have landed that would have given the Clippers meaningful problems — Philadelphia with Joel Embiid stands out as an example — but Brooklyn still falls a little short based on the initial eye test.
What do you think about the new team to beat in the East?