Brooklyn goes all-in, net Harden in blockbuster 4-team trade

The Brooklyn Nets are going all-in!

The Nets pushed all their chips on the table to acquire Houston Rocket’s disgrunted superstar James Harden, forming a super team with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

Brooklyn gave up its young core led by Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen, multiple first-round picks, and pick swaps in the blockbuster deal.

The trade expanded to include the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Indiana Pacers, as first reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne.

The Rockets then shipped LeVert to the Pacers for Victor Oladipo. Allen and Prince were re-routed to the Cavaliers.

The final trade scenario looked like this, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania:

Nets acquired:

  • James Harden

Rockets acquired:

  • Victor Oladipo (via Pacers)
  • Dante Exum (via Cavaliers)
  • Rodions Kurucs (via Nets)
  • Nets’ unprotected first-round picks (2022, 2024, 2026)
  • pick swaps with Nets (2021, 2023, 2025, 2027)
  • Cavaliers’ 2022 first-round pick (via Milwaukee Bucks)
  • future second-round pick (via Pacers)

Pacers acquired:

  • Caris LeVert (via Nets)
  • future second-round pick (via Rockets)

Cavaliers acquired:

  • Jarett Allen (via Nets)
  • Taurean Prince (via Nets)

‘It can’t be fixed’

The trade which Harden pushed so hard since the offseason escalated quickly after his zoom interview last night.

“We’re not even close, honestly, to, obviously, the defending champions (Lakers) and all the other elite teams out there,” Harden said. “I mean, you can tell the difference in these last two games.

“Chemistry, talent-wise, everything. It’s clear. I love this city. I’ve literally done everything I can. It’s crazy. I don’t think it can be fixed. Thanks.”

The Rockets eventually caved in to his trade demand.

Reunion in Brooklyn

Harden is now reunited with Durant, his former Oklahoma City Thunder teammate.

The Nets got much-needed firepower after losing Spencer Dinwiddie to a season-ending injury. An uneven start forced the Nets to mortgage their future for the present. It didn’t help that Irving also went on leave due to personal reasons.

The trade, though, left the Nets’ bench gutted.

They have three more spots to fill. Look out for Jamal Crawford’s name to be linked to the Nets anew. Crawford played for the Nets in the Orlando bubble.

Moving on

The Rockets, meanwhile, can now move forward from the drama that engulfed the team up to this point.

Oladipo will team up with John Wall at the backcourt.

The Rockets endured a volatile offseason with Harden instigating a ‘holdout’ in the training camp. That caused him to miss the beginning of training camp and their first two preseason games. He was subsequently fined for violating the league’s health protocols.

On the other hand, the Cavaliers got an emerging young center in Allen. He will serve as their center of the future with Andre Drummond set to hit free agency.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

20 names in New York sports that made 2020 tolerable

In 2020, we learned just how small sports were on the grand scale. Even so, these New Yorkers brought hope and joy to the beleaguered area.

Ah, 2020…we knew ye too well.

“Auld Lang Syne” will hit a little differently this New Year’s Eve, as the country and the world entire prepares to bid farewell to one of the most brutal 366-day cycles in recent memory. The year even took away sports at one point in time, which might’ve almost been seen as a merciful act considering the modern endeavors of New York sports. Metropolitan athletics have consistently fallen far short of their inflated expectations. Save for the New York Islanders’ surprise trip to the NHL’s Eastern Conference finals, each of New York’s teams either endured early postseason exits or missed out entirely.

Yet, there were several names in the sports world, before and after the period of pause and reflection, that gave the metropolitan area hope in this brutal season. ESM bids farewell with 20 legends…

Josh Allen

So brutal were metropolitan affiars this season that we had to turn to our friends in Western New York. But, unless you’re a Jets who has two annual meetings with Allen to dread for the foreseeable future, it’s hard not to appreciate what Allen has done for the Bills’ franchise, defying draft day expectations out of Wyoming and playing a vital role in ending their 17-year playoff drought and turning them into Super Bowl contenders. Entering Sunday’s regular season final against Miami (1 p.m. ET, CBS), Allen has broken Jim Kelly’s record for most touchdown passes in a single season of Bills football (34) and is within striking distance of Drew Bledsoe’s yardage record of the same variety. Allen has also taken home six Offensive Player of the Week Awards in his career (four this season), second only to the ten earned by the aforementioned Kelly.

Mathew Barzal

As the New York Islanders go through a period of both transition and prosperity…being one of the rare metropolitan teams to experience postseason success in 2020…Barzal has evolved into a face of the franchise, taking over from the Toronto-based John Tavares. Appropriately, it was Barzal that informed the hockey world that the Islanders were going to be a problem in the bubble, scoring the game-winning goal in the their 2-1 win over Washington in the Eastern Conference quarterfinal round, a tally that gave the Islanders a 3-0 lead in the series. Ironically, Barzal’s moment of glory came in Tavares’ current stomping grounds of Scotiabank Arena.

Mekhi Becton

The New York Jets have a lot of questions to answer once the calendar officially flips. But Becton, the Jets’ first-round choice (11th overall) out of Louisville is crossing one need off their offseason shopping list. Called upon to protect Sam Darnold’s blindside, Becton has become one of the most dominant young blockers in football, ranking at or near the top of several analytical rookie lists. The Jets aren’t quite sure who their quarterback is going come next September. They do know, however, that Becton will be serving as his security.

James Bradberry

Formerly under general manager Dave Gettleman’s watch in Carolina, Bradberry came to New York with relatively little fanfare. He has since gone on to become one of the biggest reasons why the Giants have a shot at anotherwise inexplicable playoff spot. Bradberry has done his part to make sure that Big Blue is at least well represented in the SportsCenter Top 10, making several acrobatic interceptions that led to his first Pro Bowl nomination.

Steve Cohen

A lot of adjustment was required to make it through 2020, but the Mets remained their same disappointing selves, tying with the defending champion Washington Nationals for last place in the NL East. But, thanks to new owner Cohen, there’s legitimate hope in the organization for the first time in ages. The Great Neck-born hedge fund manager has immediately endeared himself to fans with promises to use his surplus budget in free agency (which manifested early with the signing of James McCann), his willingness to clean house shortly after his arduous purchase was completed, and his lighthearted interactions with supporters on Twitter.

Gerrit Cole

The shortened seasons denied Yankees fans the full Cole experience in the early going, but it’s safe to say the newly minted $324 million man lived up to the hype. He saved the best for last, earning a 1.00 ERA over four starts in September and later struck out 13 without a walk in the Yankees’ Wild Card Series win over Cleveland. Such a feat had been accomplished since Tom Seaver’s endeavor in the 1973 NLCS.

Stefon Diggs

The trade for Diggs feels like it happened years ago, as do all the tweets and thoughtpieces that claim the Bills gave up too much for the former Minnesota Viking. But the Minneapolis Miracle worker has made the four-pick exchange worth it, even erasing the fact that the Bills missed out on rookie sensation Justin Jefferson. Like Allen, Diggs is rewriting the Bills’ record book, breaking Eric Moulds’ former marks for single-season for receptions (120) and yardage (1,459). Both of tallies lead the NFL entering the final week of the regular season.

Kevin Durant

Brooklyn Nets fans received a bit of a special Christmas gift this year, as they were finally treated to Kevin Durant’s debut in black and white. Teamed up with Kyrie Irving, the ten-time All-Star hasn’t lost a step, putting 28.3 points and 5.8 rebounds over his first four games. Durant apparently saved the best for first, torching his former compatriots from Golden State for 22 points on opening night before scoring 29 in a Christmas win over Boston.

Sabrina Ionescu

The draft lottery has turned into a cruel custom for the blue and orange hardwood representatives in New York, but the Liberty hit the jackpot with the drafting of Ionescu in April. The city didn’t get the full Ionescu treatment in her rookie season, with an ankle injury limiting her metropolitan antics to three games. But the Oregon alumna is on pace to be a true face of women’s sports in the area, with her jersey sales ranking fourth in the WNBA this season. Ionescu gave her new Brooklyn fanbase something to be excited about before fate stepped in, scoring 33 points in only her second career contest.

Kyrie Irving

Irving’s 2020 heroics likewise required patience. He partook in only 20 games during the shortened 2019-20 campaign (none of them during the Nets’ endeavor in Disney World) but managed to drop 54 points (on 19-of-23 shooting from the field) in a January win over Chicago. Irving likewise emerged as one of the most vocal voices in social change alongside his basketball brothers and sisters. He was more than willing to carry on his basketball antics on the court once he was ready to get rolling again, torching the Celtics for 37 points on Christmas.

Jazmine Jones

Perhaps no one defined the 2020 New York Liberty sense of resiliency and development better than Jones. Bookending the first round of the 2020 WNBA Draft with Ionescu, Jones took full advantage of relatively consequence-free basketball, making herself essential when the Liberty’s plethora of veterans potentially return in 2021. The Louisville alumna took over point guard duties after Ionescu went down, resuming a role she last played during her high school days at Florida A&M University’s Developmental Research School. She put up 10.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 1.4 steals per game, earning a spot on the league’s official all-rookie team.

Brock Nelson

Signer of a six-year deal to remain an Islander before the season started, Nelson became one of the team’s most reliable and clutch performers during their run to the conference finals. He scored three game-winning goals and finished second on the team in postseason points with 18.

New York Guardians Defense

The second attempt at XFL feels like an endeavor from years ago, but briefly took over the February calendar with a slate that wound up lasting five games. It allowed MetLife Stadium to enjoy at least some form of victorious football, as the local Guardians won each of their two games at the venue. Their defense was particularly strong, as Cavon Walker led the league in sacks (4.5) and six different defenders earned at least one interception.

Artemi Panarin

If there was ever a year to not take risks, 2020 was certainly at, or at least near, the top of the list. Despite Panarin’s many talents, many saw the Rangers’ seven-year, $81.5 million deal with the former Blue Jacket (a smaller price tag after Panarin spurned the Islanders) as too much dedication to a single player. But Panarin lived up to the massive deal, finishing off the shortened season with a career-best 95 points (good for a third-place tie on the NHL ledger).

Logan Ryan

As a Rutgers alum, New Jersey native, and the man who took Tom Brady’s final New England throw back for a touchdown, Ryan seemed destined for a metropolitan collaboration. The Giants took the plunge shortly before the season began, and Ryan has rewarded them with a strong showing that has included good coverage, 91 tackles, and an interception that clinched the season sweep against Washington (which will come up big if the two sides tie for the NFC lead after Sunday). It has been an emotional season for Ryan, whose wife Ashley endured an ectopic pregnancy. Ryan later inked a three-year deal to stay with the Giants on Christmas Day.

Kailen Sheridan

The National Women’s Soccer League was the first North American team sports league to make its return this summer, staging its annual Challenge Cup festivities in Utah. Sky Blue FC, their debut season at Red Bull Arena pushed back due to obvious reasons, had struggled in recent years but put on a strong showing with a fourth-place finish. Sheridan was the driving force behind the effort, winning the tournament’s Golden Glove award to the tune of three shutouts. Sky Blue also had a respectable showing in the NWSL’s fall showcase, earning a matching fourth-place mark.

Tom Thibodeau

Wishing someone association with the James Dolan-owned sounds like a punishment one would avoid giving their worst enemy…at least their worst hardwood enemy. Thibodeau, however, returns to the ranks of head coaching to face what’s his toughest challenge yet. But, unlike his predecessors, it appears Thibodeau has a plan for the Knicks moving forward, seeking to change the culture and build a team-centered atmosphere. So far, it’s played in the Knicks’ favor. The team has played competitively in the infantile stages of the season, sitting at 2-2 after the first four games (including a dominant win over Giannis Antetokounmpo and Milwaukee). They’ll have chance to end the season on the right note on Friday night against Toronto (7:30 p.m. ET, MSG).

Semyon Varlamov

The jokes against Islander goaltending officially ended, or were at least put on hold, through Varlamov’s efforts. He came up with several big saves during the playoff trek and was one of only six goalies inside the Canada bubbles to record multiple shutouts. His 2.14 goals against average was also fourth amongst goalies with at least 10 playoff starts.

Quinnen Williams

Williams retook control of the narrative surrounding his career, as many felt he was destined to be a bust after struggling in his rookie season (and with Pro Bowler Josh Allen going shortly after him). But Williams responded with a stellar sophomore season, leading all interior defensive linemen in both traditional and analytical categories as one of the most consistent backfield invaders in the league.

Mika Zibanejad

Zibanejad is perhaps responsible for the most dominant one-man effort of the 2020 sports season, tallying a jaw-dropping five goals, including the overtime winner in a March win over the Capitals. The yield from one of the biggest robberies in New York sports memory (the biggest loss being Derick Brassard to Ottawa in the trade), Zibanejad again put up his best numbers despite a shutdown, scoring 41 goals (fifth in the league) in 57 games.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Brooklyn Nets: Key observations after 3 games

Brooklyn Nets, Kevin Durant

The Brooklyn Nets may not be undefeated, but after going 2-1 in their first three regular-season games, Nets fans should be extremely excited about what they’ve seen thus far.  The first two games were a breeze. Their game on Sunday night against the Charlotte Hornets? Not so much. Let’s take a closer look at how the Brooklyn Nets have performed this early in the season and what they will need to do moving forward in order to win the East and potentially an NBA title.

The Good

In their first two games against Golden State and Boston, the Nets averaged 124 points while limiting their opponents to less than 100.  We can get into the offense in a minute, but their smothering defense allowed them to pull away in both games. Against Golden State, they held Steph to 7/21 from the field and held the Golden State Warriors to 30% from 3pt land and 37% from the field. The Nets shot 32 free throws compared to the Warriors 23, and the game was over by halftime. All 5 starters were a +20 or more, and the Kyrie (26 points) and KD (22 points) tandem on offense were virtually unstoppable. Caris came in and poured 20 off the bench, and every single player that saw the floor scored, with the exception of Tyler Johnson.

Against Boston, the story was much of the same. While the 1st half was much closer than the Golden State game, the Nets held Boston to just 23 points in the 3rd and 18 points in the 4th before pulling away in the 4th quarter. The Nets’ length on defense made life miserable for Jayson Tatum, who finished 9-22 from the field with 20 points. The only other two Celtics players in double figures were Jaylen Brown with 27 and Marcus Smart with 13. The Nets held the Celtics to 29% from three-point range. On offense, Kyrie and KD continued their dominance, scoring respectively 37 and 29. LeVert was the only other Net in double figures with 10, and Joe Harris finished with 9. The intensity and execution the Nets demonstrated from start to finish prompted an extremely complimentary quote from Marcus Smart, who said:

The Bad

Obviously, as talented as this Nets team is, nobody believed they would go 72-0. It was only a matter of time before they lost a game and truly showed us some of their flaws. Many just didn’t think it would come against the Charlotte Hornets on Sunday night. From the jump, the Nets looked a step behind and lacked the intensity they played within the first two games. The Nets had 19 turnovers compared to the Hornets 12, lost in the rebounding category by 6, and failed to score more than 30 points in any quarter. The Hornets not only out-played the Nets, but they also out-hustled them, too, getting to almost every loose ball and grabbing 13 offensive boards. The Nets were unable to slow down Hayward, who led the Hornets with 28 points going 12-30 from the field, and P.J. Washington was a nightmare on the glass, grabbing 12 rebounds to go along with 14 points. Even Kyrie’s former teammate in Boston, Terry Rozier, finished with 19 points and a highlight-reel slam dunk over Kevin Durant.

Down 16 points in the 4th quarter, Brooklyn showed their resilience by cutting the deficit to just two points with less than 20 seconds remaining. Durant, who finished with 29 points, had a chance to tie the game off a baseline mid-range jumper over Biyombo, but much like the rest of the game, it didn’t go the Nets’ way and rimmed out. Kyrie poured in 25 points and 6 assists but had 4 turnovers as well. Joe Harris, who the Nets have gotten involved in the offense very early on in their first three games, finished with 13 points going 5-12 from the field and 3-7 from the three-point range. Brooklyn’s 2nd unit, led by Caris LeVert, who was a -12 on the court, was extremely disappointing in this one and let the Hornets take a commanding lead early in the 4th. To sum it up nicely, the Nets didn’t show up for this one.

The Unexpected

No professional sports season goes the exact way a team plans it will. Unforeseen events occur, and the coaches/GM/players make adjustments throughout a season. Heck, if you want a good example of this, just look at the NFC East in the NFL! The Brooklyn Nets are no different and are in the midst of seeing several unexpected events play out.

Easily the worst post-game news to come from their game against Charlotte was the loss of Spencer Dinwiddie. After going down in the 3rd quarter, it was announced shortly after the game that Dinwiddie had suffered a partially torn ACL in his right knee, requiring surgery, and he would be out the rest of the season. This is a huge blow for the Nets, as Dinwiddie had started each game this season as the #2 guard next to Kyrie, and it seemed as though he was started to play better in his new role.

With Dinwiddie getting hurt, that led to an opportunity for a Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot or “TLC,” who had been buried on the depth chart and hadn’t even received much time with the second unit. TLC got Dinwiddie’s minutes in the 4th quarter and was fantastic, playing great defense and going 4-4 from the field (3-3 from three-point range) and finishing with 11 points. If anything good could come out of this awful news regarding Dinwiddie’s knee, it is that TLC might be a guy Nash will want to give more minutes to, especially since Taurean Prince and Landry Shamet have both struggled mightily in the first three games.

Overall Summary

What we have learned so far:

-KD and Kyrie are BACK. There is not a better duo in the East than those two. They can each get to wherever they want on the court and complement each other’s games very nicely. On the last play of the Charlotte game, fans saw a Kyrie/KD pick and roll, resulting in KD’s miss to tie the game. That play may become deadly as the two become more familiar playing with one another.

-The Nets 2nd unit isn’t as dominant as we assumed it would be. LeVert has had 2 back-to-back mediocre games and needs to do a better job of leading the team when KD/Kyrie is not on the floor. Taurean Prince has been flat out awful, and Shamet has been disappointing. Jarrett Allen has been the most consistent player in the 2nd unit.

-When the Nets don’t play with urgency and focus on defense, they could be beaten by any team in this league.

-Head Coach Steve Nash has not quite mastered these rotations just yet

What we still don’t know:

-Who will start in Dinwiddie’s place; will it be Caris LeVert? Landry Shamet? Or did TLC earn the chance to start?

-Are the Nets still interested in trading for James Harden?

-Will Deandre Jordan eventually get demoted to the 2nd unit so Jarrett Allen can start?

-Will the Nets begin to rest KD and Kyrie soon to manage their playing time?

The Nets (2-1) play the Memphis Grizzlies (0-2) at home tonight at 7:30 pm EST. Kevin Durant will be sitting out this game.

Thanks for reading this article! Be sure to check out our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for your latest Brooklyn Nets news and listen to the Fireside Nets w/ Spen & Nick podcast!

Brooklyn Nets: Breaking down the Nets Final Preseason Win against the Celtics

Brooklyn Nets, Kyrie Irving

If you’re a follower of Brooklyn Nets news, then you have probably seen the video of Kyrie Irving burning sage prior to the Nets’ final preseason game against the Celtics last night. Irving explained after the game, his “smudging” was meant to cleanse the energy in the arena but to0 many Nets fans, it may have had a slightly different meaning; a fresh start. Not since the early 2000s have Nets, fans had a team with this much hype and excitement around them. With a healthy Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, returning key contributors in Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, and Jarrett Allen, and adding Landry Shamet and Jeff Green in the offseason to round out this roster, stakes could not be higher for the Brooklyn Nets as we approach the regular season.

Breaking Down the Nets Final Preseason Game

Kevin Durant Shows Out

While the first preseason game belonged to Kyrie, Durant stole the show against the Celtics last night, scoring 25 points on 9-16 from the field in 27 minutes of action. Whether it was the pull-up three, blowing by his defender for the dunk at the rim, or the un-guardable mid-range shot, Durant showed to everyone last night that he hasn’t lost a step. But elite offense wasn’t the only feature Durant showcased last night; he also led the Nets with 3 blocks, several of them coming at the rim. If this is the Kevin Durant Nets fans will get this season, barring any health setbacks, then there aren’t many teams in the East who can claim their #1 is better than Brooklyn’s.

Kyrie Continues to Lead

There have been several instances throughout the first two pre-season games where Kyrie Irving has shown his leadership among teammates. Yesterday, there were two specific scenarios. One came shortly after a Spencer Dinwiddie drive to the basket, of which there was contact with his defender but no call. This became a reoccurring theme for Dinwiddie throughout the night, as there were not many fouls called on his behalf. After a particularly physical drive, Dinwiddie was visually frustrated on the ground after not receiving the call, and an encouraging Kyrie Irving came over to him to pick him up. Seems subtle and small, but those are the types of actions that good teammates and leaders exhibit on a nightly basis.

The second moment came from Irving leading by example. After the Celtics went on a mini-run midway through the game, Tatum had just finished a sequence in which he had scored 5 straight points and rejected Spencer Dinwiddie on his drive to the rim. With the Nets only leading by 9, the smallest lead since the beginning of the game, Irving demanded the ball with Tatum covering him, immediately took him to the lane, and scored on a beautiful floater. You could feel the Celtics’ momentum vanish as the Nets would go on a scoring run of their own after that moment. These are the types of momentum swings that leaders like Kyrie and KD have to execute in order for the Nets to be dominant. Kyrie finished with 17 pts, 5 assists, and 7 rebs in 28 minutes.

Role Players who Impressed

There were several Nets outside of KD and Kyrie who performed exceptionally last night. Joe Harris had a huge “remember me guys?” moment early on in the game and finished with 14 points. Dinwiddie looked efficient with the starters, despite a 1-7 shooting night, picking his spots on when he should attack and when he should defer to the two stars on the team. And Jarrett Allen continued his excellent play in backing up Deandre Jordan (will return to shortly) with a stat line of 9 pts and 11 rebs. As for the two newcomers in Jeff Green and Landry Shamet, they have given Steve Nash some excellent minutes thus far. Shamet has looked sharp with the 2nd unit and moves well without the ball. Green, playing at the 5, has given the Nets a small-ball lineup with all 5 players on the court capable of hitting a three. TLC gave the Nets 11 solid minutes off the bench and has fought hard this preseason to crack this Nets rotation.

Preseason Summary & Remaining Roster questions

Obviously, the biggest story out of the Nets’ two preseason games has been how great Kyrie and KD have both looked. There needs to be something said about the fact that these guys complement each other’s games very nicely. KD can play with anybody, and Kyrie now feels he has an equal scoring counterpart on his team (sorry, Lebron). The supporting cast has looked exceptional, and Nash has done a great job of mixing and matching rotations in hopes of generating an optimal five players throughout the game. The Nets have dominated their opponents in both preseason games, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t questions about this team headed into the regular season.

For example, who will start at the center position, Deandre Jordan or Jarrett Allen? In two preseason games, Coach Nash has yet to insert Jarrett Allen into the starting lineup. Now, this is where many Nets fans have disagreed with Nash; anyone with eyes can see Allen has the ability to contribute much more than Jordan, both on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. Unfortunately, the narrative is that because Jordan has a close-knit friendship with KD and Kyrie, he will continue to start over Allen. This is something that may change if the Nets go on a losing skid early on in the season.

Another question Nash will have to answer is who will start alongside Kyrie, Spencer Dinwiddie, or Caris LeVert? Yesterday, we saw Dinwiddie get the start, who seemed to mesh well with Kyrie and KD despite the off shooting night.  LeVert led the 2nd unit and eventually would get some time with KD and Kyrie in the 3rd. While it seemed as though Nash’s strategy worked as LeVert managed to score 18 points in 21 minutes, the Nets are still unsure on who will start and who will come off the bench between the two.

Thanks for reading this article! Be sure to check out our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for your latest Brooklyn Nets news and listen to the Fireside Nets w/ Spen & Nick podcast!

Durant, Irving look good together but Nets’ title hopes still fragile

For the first nine minutes and 27 seconds of the preseason game between the Brooklyn Nets and the Washington Wizards last Sunday night, the world saw a glimpse of the Kevin Durant-Kyrie Irving potential.

The 119-114 final scoreline in favor of the Nets didn’t tell the whole story.

Worth the long wait

It was a long wait for the Nets, who signed both superstars to separate four-year deals as the culmination of the reclamation project of GM Sean Marks in Brooklyn. But definitely worth it.

Started from the bottom, the Nets have gone a long way, morphing from a team with no cap space into a fringe playoff contender and now a serious title threat in the NBA.

In that glorious stretch in the opening quarter, the long recovery of both Durant and Irving from serious injuries was an afterthought. Irving’s contentious relationship with the media was sidetracked. James Harden was never needed.

Durant dusted off anxious moments and shrugged off nervousness with a baseline dunk for his basket since tearing his Achilles back in June of 2019.

The former MVP was back to his silky-smooth ways scoring 11 points on 3-of-3 shooting, while Irving’s court wizardry produced 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting. The Nets were in full control with Durant and Irving on the floor. They opened up a 12-point lead, 30-28, that ballooned to as many 26 points.

‘I was anxious, nervous’

It didn’t matter the Wizards tried to come back when Durant went out for good in the third quarter while Irving didn’t see action in the second half. What mattered was they showed it’s really worth the wait.

“I was anxious, nervous. I visualized this moment for so long — nine, 10 months of thinking about how it would be, this next phase of my career,” Durant said postgame. “I felt like I was chomping at the bit, especially once COVID hit because I didn’t see a future — when the season was going to start in the future. I was going through it.

“So to go through this felt solid.”

Durant played a total of 24 minutes and finished with 15 points, three rebounds, three assists, and two blocks.

He looked confident in his first game back.

‘The world missed Durant’

Irving led the Nets with 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting despite sitting out the whole second half.

“That’s one of the perks of this position, is you get to coach two incredible players,” said first-time head coach Steve Nash. “Ky was super sharp and Kevin, after such an extensive layoff was very good and close to being incredible.”

“When you have that type of injury,” Nash said of Durant after the game, “it is kind of remarkable he’s at the level he’s at.

“It’s amazing. This is an injury that very few people have conquered, so to speak. It’s beautiful to see him back on the basketball court. I think the world missed him — I certainly did.”

Without Durant and partially Irving (shoulder injury), the Nets were still able to contend for the last playoff spot in the East.

This season, they are expected to contend for the title.

But that will hinge on Durant and Irving’s fragile bodies to hold up for the condensed season.

Bench depth over Harden

James Harden could be their insurance. But if there’s anything their first preseason game revealed aside from the Durant-Irving dominance, the Nets also saw the depth they will potentially miss if the Houston Rockets’ superstar gets his wish.

The Rockets have maintained they do not want the Nets’ complimentary players plus picks, per ESPN report. They may need a third team where the Rockets can get a young star.

But Marks have earlier remarked that the Nets don’t want to mortgage their future for Harden. Durant, on the other hand, denied recruiting Harden.

The Nets, who played without young rising star Caris LeVert due to patella contusion, had four more players in double figures aside from Durant and Irving.

Spencer Dinwiddie had 10 points and seven assists. Newcomer Landry Shamet, acquired via Draft Day trade, his 3 of 5 from the outside to finish with 13 points. Taurean Prince and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot each added 11.

Irving breaks media silence

Irving, who skipped the postgame interviews, finally broke his media blackout Monday morning.

The Nets and their star point guard were fined $25,000 each for the media blackout to which he responded with a controversial Instagram:

“I’ve had enough of someone else propaganda… I pray we utilize the ‘fine money’ for the marginalized communities in need, especially seeing where our world is presently… I do not talk to Pawns. My attention is worth more.”

Irving addressed them in his first media session, denying it was directed to NBA writers.

“It’s really just about how I felt about the mistreatment of certain artists when we get to a certain platform of when we make decisions within our lives to have full control and ownership… We want to perform in a secure and protected space,” he said.

He also retracted his earlier statement on Durant’s podcast that he really didn’t see them having a coach.

“Steve’s been amazing,” Irving said Monday. “He kind of commands the respect. I think I’ve got to take back my comments in terms of the head coach back a few months ago. But it’s just like, man, we have such a great synergy. Everyone feels like we’re coaching one another to be better, so I’m grateful for that.”

If their first game together is any indication, the synergy looks great. Credit it to Nash for not having a big ego and having the right temperament to handle the issue that could have otherwise gone south.

While the Nets are off to a good start, their title hopes still hang in the balance of their superstars’ fragile bodies and egos. 

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Kevin Durant denies recruiting James Harden to Brooklyn Nets

The NBA training camp has begun, and James Harden is still in Houston. Still the franchise cornerstone of the Rockets.

The blockbuster trade that was supposed to bring Harden to the Brooklyn Nets got stalled with the Rockets wanting to get a king’s ransom in return. Something that the Nets wouldn’t want to do — mortgage their future.

And at the center of the storm that threatened to tilt the balance of power in the NBA is Kevin Durant, who, reportedly, had a conversation with Harden in forming a super team with Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn.

Durant vehemently denied such conversations between him and Harden on the first day of the Nets’ training camp.

“I don’t know where you’re making these stories up, that me and James talked about any of this at a workout,” Durant told reporters via zoom on Tuesday. “I don’t know where that came from. James is a friend of mine, but I let the front office handle all of that stuff. I was just so focused on working out.

But Durant, who will make his much-anticipated return from an Achilles injury more than a week from now, has acknowledged that he’s heard all the trade chatter.

“I heard all the noise that James potentially wanted to come to the Nets, but anyone can make up stories, anyone can write a story, and it gets some traction,” Durant said.

“Nothing’s ever set in stone until it’s set in stone. So I’ve never thought too much about it, just focused on myself and my teammates probably did the same thing, and we just move forward.”

Nets re-sign Tyler Johnson, Chris Chiozza

Moving forward is what the Nets have done as they traded for gunner Landry Shamet and re-signed guards Tyler Johnson and Chris Chiozza.

Even without Harden, the Nets are installed as one of the favorites in the East. All eyes will be on the new-look Nets with Durant and Irving and first-time head coach Steve Nash when they host the Washington Wizards for their first preseason game on Dec. 13 to be aired live on YES Network.

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Report: Nets, Rockets verbally agree on James Harden blockbuster trade

The Brooklyn Nets and the Houston Rockets are nearing completion of a blockbuster deal that will send James Harden to Brooklyn, according to Anthony Puccio of Front Office Sports.

Multiple sources have told Puccio that there’s a deal in place, and both teams already have a verbal agreement.

Shortly after the news broke out, Farbod Esnaashari of Sports Illustrated put out more details on the imminent trade.

The Rockets are seeking a massive haul in return for Harden, who has been the face of the franchise since 2012. The 2018 MVP earned his third scoring title last season after averaging 34.3 points. In addition to his dynamic scoring, Harden also averaged 7.6 assists, 6.6 rebounds, and 1.8 steals, becoming just the third player to lead the NBA in total points and steals to join Michael Jordan and Allen Iverson in the exclusive group.

Harden, 31, earlier rejected a two-year, $103-million extension offer putting more pressure on the Rockets to trade him to his preferred destination.

The Nets rose on top of Harden’s wish list after conversations with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving on the West Coast, and with former Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni joining the Nets in an assistant role to first-time head coach Steve Nash.

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Nets Rumor: James Harden names Brooklyn as one of 3 potential destinations if Rockets blow it up

Could James Harden be the third star that the Brooklyn Nets covet?

With all the unrest in Houston brought by the sweeping changes in the coaching staff and front office, Rockets’ superstars Harden and Russell Westbrook have reportedly expressed concern about the franchise’s direction, per ESPN.

Adding more fuel to the fire, Kendrick Perkins said on The Jump on Wednesday that Harden isn’t picking up the phone calls of the members of the Rockets’ organization.

Five Reasons Sports Network’s Clutch NBA reported shortly after that Harden already has a list in mind on where he wants to go next if the Rockets decide to go in another direction.

The 31-year old Harden has $131.5 million left in his contract, including a $46.9 million player option in 2022-23.

Nets’ possible package for Harden

ESPN’s front office insider Bobby Marks also named the Nets as one of the five teams who have the combination of draft capital and tradeable contracts that can satisfy Rockets’ possible asking price. The four other teams are Boston Celtics, Denver Nuggets, Golden State Warriors, and the 76ers where Daryl Morey, the former Rockets general manager, has indicated that he will trade for Harden if he is made available.

The Nets, according to Marks, can dangle a package composed of Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, Spencer Dinwiddie, Taurean Prince, and future draft picks.

The Nets have internally discussed last season on how to acquire a third star, acknowledging that their championship window has arrived with the acquisition of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

They were previously linked to Bradley Beal and Jrue Holiday, but nothing concrete came out of it.

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Bobby Marks: Brooklyn Nets’ big man Jarrett Allen looking for Clint Capela-type of extension

Brooklyn Nets, Jarrett Allen

Will the Brooklyn Nets extend or cash in Jarret Allen?

This is one of the biggest questions that Net’s general manager Sean Marks would have to address aside from re-signing Joe Harris and finding the third star to complement the returning Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

Allen’s contract extension talks could be tied with the last one as his name constantly pops up in trade rumors.

Conventional wisdom says the Nets would likely play out Allen’s rookie deal and have him as a restricted free agent next year. But that would be tempting Allen to walk away after this season without getting anything in return.

Former Nets’ assistant general manager and now ESPN’s front office insider Bobby Marks recently weighed in on Allen’s contract situation.

“He’s looking for a Clint Capela-type of money,” Marks said on Brian Windhorst and the Hoop Collective Podcast.

Capela signed a five-year, $90-million extension deal with the Houston Rockets in 2018 before he was traded to the Atlanta Hawks last season. Capela was 24 at the time of the deal.

“I would think it’s hard for me to extend him to that type of number and the other thing is if you extend these guys, you’re basically off the board for a year because of the poison pill restriction in your contract. So it’s not like he’s tradeable so I think if I’m Brooklyn and if I can get him in that $12-14 million range, I’m looking for a below-market type of deal here,” Marks added.

But would Allen agree to a discount in a reduced role for the next three to four years?

 

Marks and Windhorst’s ESPN colleague Tim MacMahon chimed in, suggesting that it’s more complicated than it seems.

“The other thing is the strange dynamic with KD and Kyrie’s guy, DeAndre Jordan, as $10-million a year dude, paying him that much to play 18-20 minutes a game. Do they want DeAndre in the starting lineup? You can’t ignore that whole dynamic when you’re making these decisions and obviously, the Nets’ front office isn’t ignoring anything that KD and Kyrie have to say when it comes to making major decisions,” MacMahon said.

The 22-year old Allen was one of the homegrown Nets but could see himself as another casualty of the new order with the team’s championship window arriving.

The markings were on the wall when Irving left him out of their core during a controversial post-game talk early this year.

“Collectively, I feel like we have great pieces, but it’s pretty glaring we need one more piece or two more pieces that will complement myself, [Kevin Durant], DJ, GT, Spence [Dinwiddie], Caris [LeVert], and we’ll see how that evolves,” Irving said after losing to the Philadelphia 76ers in January.

Allen subsequently lost the starting job to Jordan after Kenny Atkinson, his biggest backer, left the team. While Allen has said all the right things since the demotion, it’s still a bitter pill to swallow after showing he’s a capable starter on a playoff team before last season.

Would he want to play as a backup in a championship contender or secure the bag and play as a starter with another team?

Nets owner and Alibaba co-founder Joe Tsai has no qualms about paying the luxury tax. Still, Bobby Marks, speaking from his experience with former Nets’ owner Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, warned that Sean Marks and the Nets’ front office could be courting trouble if they flame out while being the league’s top taxpayer.

“Here’s the deal with these guys (rich owners). They may be making 20 billion dollars a year and I’ve said this all along. When you’ve got to write a luxury tax cheque, or wire money for $40 or $50 million and you lose in the second round or conference finals, it’s not a pleasant meeting with the ownership. So I don’t care what they’re worth. Nobody wants to spend $50 million on tax,” Marks said.

Earlier, Marks told Empire Sports Media that a Harris deal worth $12 million annually would net the Nets a $50-million tax bill. A lucrative Allen extension would push Tsai to dig deeper into his pocket.

Even with a healthy Durant and Irving, the Nets are not a surefire favorite. They would have to contend in a crowded East with at least five more solid contenders in Miami, Milwaukee, Toronto, Philadelphia, and Boston.

Sean Marks showed his chops as an executive pulling the Nets out of the rabbit hole by extracting value out of nothing.

Now that he’s got something, will he keep it or flip it?

Marks has his work cut out for him.

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Bradley Beal leaves door open for Nets, other contenders

New York Knicks, Marcus Morris

The Brooklyn Nets have an outside chance to land Bradley Beal, if not this offseason, in the foreseeable future.

Expect the Beal trade chatter to continue until next season after the Washington Wizards superstar left the door open for him to bolt out from D.C.

Beal, appearing on J.J. Redick’s podcast The Old Man and the Three, explained why he only signed a one plus one extension instead of the three or four-year deal.

“I want something built around me. I have that opportunity to do it here. I signed my deal and structured it to have some flexibility,” Beal said. “Because at the end of the day, I still want to win. The (Wizards) organization have to show me that we want to win. I want to see what John (Wall) is like [when he returns] as well.”

Beal suprised the league when he signed a two-year, $72 million extension that will keep him in Washington until the summer of 2022 when he can exercise his player option to enter free agency.

If he declines his player option, he would be eligible for a lucrative five-year, $266 million deal or sign elsewhere for a four-year, $198 million contract.

“You still want to be able to protect yourself and kinda be selfish. How can I create some type of flexibility for myself if we aren’t winning, if I do choose to get out.”

The Nets have reportedly discussed last summer on how to acquire Beal as the team’s third star after Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving joined them last year.

At that time, Beal took the news as a sign of respect.

“It’s not the first time I’ve heard this kind of talk,” Beal told ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan. “It’s interesting. To me, I look at it as a sign of respect, that I’ve been doing good things and guys want to play with me. That’s an unbelievable feeling. When you hear that Kyrie and KD want you, s—, that’s amazing.”

“At the same time, you don’t know how much there is to it, or how easy it would be to do. And I’ve put down roots in D.C. I’ve dedicated myself to this town, this community. I love it here, and it would feel great to know I could grind out winning here instead of jumping to another team. But I’d be naive to say that I don’t think about it when these stories come up.”

The Wizards are hoping that Wall’s comeback will ease up the load on Beal and help them get back into playoff contention in the East which has gotten stronger with a healthy Durant and Irving in Brooklyn.

Wall has only played 73 games since 2017-18 but looks fine in a recent workout against, ironically, the Nets that surfaced on social media.

Without Wall, Beal had to shoulder much of the load and despite a stellar campaign last season, he wasn’t named to any of the All-NBA teams. Beal averaged 30.5 points, 4.2 rebounds and 6.1 assists while shooting 45.5 percent from the field, 35.3 percent from beyond the arc and 84.2 percent from the free throw line.

He was the first player to average 30 points and six assists who wasn’t named to any All-NBA team.

The Nets as well as the other contenders will be closely monitoring Beal and the Wizards situation.

The pressure is building up in Washington.

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