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Brooklyn goes Hard(en) and what that means to the Boston Celtics



By A. Sherrod Blakely


BOSTON – James Harden got his wish and is off to the Brooklyn Nets where he’ll play with Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and a bunch of players nobody is going to think about or care about anymore.

Here are the particulars of the blockbuster trade, according to the Athletics’ Shams Charania.


NETS GET:

· James Harden (from Houston)


ROCKETS GET:

· Victor Oladipo (from Indiana)

· Dante Exum (from Cleveland)

· Rodions Kurucs (from Brooklyn)

· Three, first-round picks from Brooklyn (’22, ’24 and 26)

· One, first round pick from Cleveland (via Milwaukee, ’22, unprotected)

· Four, first-round swaps with Brooklyn (’21, ’23, ’25 and ’27)


PACERS GET:

· Caris Levert from Houston (via Brooklyn)

· Second round pick (Cleveland)


CAVS GET:

· Jarrett Allen (from Brooklyn)

· Taurean Prince (from Brooklyn)


So, what does this mean for the rest of the East, specifically the East-leading Boston Celtics?

If there’s one thing we’ve learned that you have to have in order to successfully navigate in this social-distanced, coronavirus pandemic we’re in the middle of while still playing games, is you have to have depth.


One minute you’re fielding a roster consisting of a pair of All-Stars, the next you have a couple of rookies and a G-Leaguer with the first group courtesy of health and safety protocols.


As important as establishing a strong core is to success, this year more than any other will be one that challenges that theory due to many end-of-the-bench players being thrust into roles of responsibility.

Brooklyn’s lack of depth following the trade will certainly be a factor that teams will try and take advantage of, the Celtics included.


But like the Nets, Boston’s talent well doesn’t go nearly as deep as it has recently. Gordon Hayward, now in Charlotte, is showing off the versatility that made him such a priority for the Celtics years ago. When you examine the team’s frontcourt, there’s not much to get excited about there when you talk about who starts and who comes in off the bench.


Boston will get Kemba Walker (knee) back soon, and that certainly helps especially when a number of Celtics players have had to miss action for health and safety protocols related to the Covid-19 virus which has led to Boston having to postpone three games – more than any other team in the NBA this season.


But even with the addition of Walker, Boston will be hard-pressed to be the last team standing in the East.


Philadelphia has Doc Rivers doing what he does as well if not better than any other coach – motivating men. Joel Embiid is playing like a legit MVP candidate for the first time in his career, Ben Simmons has actually taken and made a 3-pointer and as we saw when health protocols decimated Philly’s usual playing rotation, that opened the door for players like Tyrese Maxey and Isaiah Joe to show what they can do given an opportunity to rock out.


The road for Boston to get back to the Eastern Conference finals for the fourth time in the last five seasons, was not going to be easy. Brooklyn adding James Harden to the mix only complicates the calculus on that even more.


But just like each of those deep playoff runs of the past for Boston was aided by factors the Celtics had no control over, there’s a very good chance a similar potential boon will occur for them now when you look at the Nets and all the uncertainty surrounding their Big Three and a much shakier supporting cast following the trade.


Like most trades, the biggest winner more times than not is the team that winds up with the best player in the deal.


There is no getting around the offensive firepower that the Brooklyn Nets possess now with three of the elite scorers in the game; James Harden, Kyrie irving and Kevin Durant.


And as challenging as the Brooklyn Nets will be now on paper, there are legit concerns about whether the latest Big Three triumvirate will work.


Let’s start with the new guy, James Harden.


The NBA’s scoring champion each of the last three seasons, nobody gets buckets like Harden. This season has been an undeniable down year start for him, and he is still dropping 24.8 points per game along with 10.4 assists and 5.1 rebounds per game.


He’s that good.

His conditioning, always a concern, is much like his waistline – bigger than usual right now.

Harden’s ability to get into playing shape will be a factor early on as the Nets try to move their way up the Eastern Conference standings. But the first few weeks of his time in Brooklyn don’t matter, not to this team which is going all-in on winning a title this year while mortgaging their future for years to come in the process.


Up next you have to take into account Kyrie Irving who has been M.I.A. the last four games due to personal reasons.


He may find himself sitting out even more games depending on a current probe by the NBA into a birthday party he attended recently.


League health protocols forbid players from attending bars, clubs, lounges and restaurants in addition to staying clear of gatherings with 15 or more people are present.


At issue is whether videos in which Kyrie Irving is seen at a birthday party for his father and sister, all of whom are mask-free, violated the leagues’ healthy and safety protocols.


The issue isn’t him being with his family.


Kyrie made that clear months ago that a big part of his decision in wanting to come to Brooklyn, was based on being closer to his family.


No issue with that being a priority, as it should be.


But the other issue in all this that has to be taken into account, is how he missed games for what the team deems “personal reasons” include but aren’t limited to him showing a total disregard for the league’s return-to-play health protocol procedures that includes wearing a protective mask which he clearly is not doing.


Brooklyn has no idea where Kyrie’s head is right now when it comes to prioritizing the team and more specifically, his role within that ecosystem.


It was easy to brush that aside before when you had Caris LeVert who could get you similar but not-the-same kind of production, or Spencer Dinwiddie’s torn ACL injury that will keep him off the floor for the rest of the season.


Brooklyn wiped out its depth to acquire Harden which is only complicated by the uncertainty of Irving’s availability and the certainty that Brooklyn has no one on its roster that can produce anywhere close to what Irving provides.


And last but certainly not least we have Kevin Durant who has shown little signs of limitation as he works his way back into tip-top shape following an Achilles injury. It’s kind of scary how good Durant has been, knowing that the best he has to offer will come as he gets in even better shape basketball-wise.


Durant is the one variable in all of this that there really aren’t any concerns about.


He’s ballin’ like KD always balls, and that alone makes the Brooklyn Nets a dangerous team. But his health, while looking good now, is still something the Nets are going to have to monitor closely all season and from time to time, scale him back just to be on the safe with his health and as best they can, secure his availability for what they hope will be a long and deep playoff run.


The pieces are all there for the Brooklyn Nets to make a power move to the top of the Eastern standings, currently occupied by the Boston Celtics.


But with so many questions lingering around this team (we haven’t even gotten into how newbie head coach Steve Nash is going to manage all these egos), you get a sense that the Celtics’ best path towards success is to continue to stay the course with the team they have, maybe look to add a big man near the trade deadline with the massive trade exception they got in the Gordon Hayward sign-and-trade with Charlotte, and let the Nets go about their business doing what they do.

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