It was a little less than a year ago that the Nets went all in on piecing together the biggest of Big Threes in today’s NBA, swapping promising youngsters (Jarrett Allen, Caris LeVert), role players (Rodion Kurucs, Taurean Prince) and a pile of draft picks in a complicated deal that landed guard James Harden in Brooklyn.
And one longtime NBA player and head coach says they shouldn’t have done it.
That ex-player is Sam Mitchell, who went on to coach the Raptors and the Timberwolves after a 13-year NBA career. Speaking on Sirius XM NBA Radio last week, Mitchell made the case that the Nets would have been better off keeping Allen and LeVert (and could have afforded Spencer Dinwiddie) rather than mortgaging the future to add Harden to the Kevin Durant-Kyrie Irving duo.
Think about if it would have been Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Look at the center, Jarrett Allen. Look at what kind of player he has turned out to be. Put him with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant and Joe Harris. You’d still have Caris LeVert and you would still have Spencer Dinwiddie. … He can come off the bench, he can start. He’s not the guy that gets the engine going. Spencer Dinwiddie on that team is your fifth or sixth best player.
I would argue with you, they would be a better team, if they had those players and that collection of players, that group they had, if they wouldn’t have added James Harden. They would be a team that I would feel more comfortable with that team we just talked about, winning a championship. Because even with Kyrie Irving, I still don’t believe they have enough past those three guys to beat the top teams.
Harden Has Struggled This Season
Hindsight, of course, is 20-20, and Harden is not having the kind of season to which he is accustomed. He is averaging 21.4 points per game, his lowest scoring output since 2012, on just 40.4% shooting and 33.8% 3-point shooting. He is also posting 9.6 assists and 8.0 rebounds, so it is not as though Harden has been a slouch.
Harden missed two weeks in the NBA’s COVID-19 protocols, and the time off might have suited him, as he had 36 points with 10 rebounds and 10 assists in his Christmas Day return against the Lakers.
Still, it is clear that, even at 22-9 and with the best record in the East, the Nets are not quite the juggernaut they were expected to be. That is, in large part, because Irving has been out, refusing to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and disqualifying him from playing in New York, which has a vaccine mandate. The Nets are preparing to bring Irving along on the road, though.
As it stands, Mitchell says the Nets can’t get past the best teams in the league. Indeed, the Nets are 0-6 against the Top 3 teams in each conference (excluding themselves).
“When they play against the teams that matter, the teams they’re going to have to beat to win a championship, they get beat,” Mitchell said. “Who are you gonna play as you go deep into the playoffs? Even though they won games and they’re sitting on top of the standings, we still don’t believe it.”
Long-Term Contracts Could Be a Problem for Nets
There is also the issue of long-term contract extensions for Harden and Irving. The Nets gave Durant a four-year extension worth $198 million in August, and will be looking at free agency for Harden and Irving this summer.
Harden could opt in for $47 million for next season and sign a $223 million extension in the summer, locking him in for five years and $270 million. The Nets pulled back their extension offer of four years and $187 million for Irving amid the vaccination controversy, but he figures to get a deal in that range nonetheless when he hits free agency.
Committing that much money, Mitchell points out, will hamper the team’s ability to improve in the future.
“This is something they need to take a pause and look at. If we lock these three guys up, right, and as these guys get older and playing less games, how are we gonna win?” Mitchell said. “What good is it to get to the playoffs and you’re not in a position to take advantage of these three great players because you had to wear them out to get there? You’ve got to balance out the rosters. You’ve got to start going to these three guys and say, ‘I can’t pay each of you $50 million a year and put a team around you.’ Can’t do it.”