After all of that, Kevin Durant managed to play nine games with the Brooklyn Nets, only six of them alongside Kyrie Irving, before that team acquired another All-Star Wednesday afternoon. Joining Durant, Irving and DeAndre Jordan, the latter of whom Jarrett Allen had finally supplanted as the Nets’ starting center this season prior to the trade, will be one James Harden, Durant’s ex-teammate, the 2018 MVP and a revolutionary offensive genius.
Of course, Harden has become as confounding a teammate as he is an actual basketball player, and his uneasy exit from Houston begs many questions, not the least for which because of the destination. The ever-prickly Durant is playing at an MVP level; Irving is essentially AWOL; Harden openly ripped the Rockets organization Tuesday night, all but forcing his team’s hand. Now, those three find themselves together, apparently at their communal behest.
Feel free to look up the particulars of the deal; four teams and multiple All-Stars were involved. Allen and Taurean Price are in Cleveland now, for some reason, and Victor Oladipo and Caris LeVert are Houston Rockets. Dante Exum continues to exist, punching the clock for fewer than twenty minutes per game. What matters above all is Harden’s move to Brooklyn, a perennial MVP candidate again reuniting with a former teammate.
Vast collections of talent are not new to the NBA by any means, though most fans likely expected the era of three current or recent All-Stars on the same team to have ended when Durant left the Golden State Warriors, with whom he won two championships and their corresponding Finals MVPs. In addition to incentivizing the idea that Chandler Parsons was worth $95 million, the one-time salary cap spike in the summer of 2016 opened the door for an unprecedented collection of talent in the Bay Area.
By that point, the Warriors were only the latest and greatest iteration of the contemporary team assembly model, previously deployed by title-winning teams in Boston and Miami and, going back further, by the Chicago Bulls during their second threepeat. All of these teams, of course, won championships. In a post-Warriors world, the standard is once again that any team expecting to compete for a championship ought to have two All-Stars.
Dating to their days with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Harden and Durant have some history. Of course, so did Harden and Russell Westbrook, and their Texan reunion lasted all of one season before Russ asked out of Houston. Harden responded by showing up to training camp late, eschewing COVID-19 protocol and going public with a trade demand following the Rockets’ 17-point loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday.
While other suitors reportedly courted the Rockets in trade talks – the Philadelphia 76ers were said to have offered a package centered on Ben Simmons – the Nets emerged with the right combination of compensatory pieces to entice Houston. Brooklyn reiterates its preeminence in the East; Houston gets to move on in something closer to peace than what they’ve experienced recently.
Stylistically, the questions surrounding what the Nets will look like, how they fit together and what to do about depth are endless. The Nets just traded away four players who together represent almost 30% of the total minutes the team has played this season. Apart from Jordan and Nicolas Claxton, the latter of whom you just heard of for the very first time because he has not played at all this season, Brooklyn has no traditional centers left on the roster following the departure of the blooming Allen.
Usage rate, a measurement showing the portion of a team’s possessions that a given player finishes, paints one picture for the three. The curves follow a natural progression: any time a player joins teams with high-usage players or an All-Star joins his own, usage rate has taken an initial dip, whereas being on a team with low-usage players spurs usage rate increases.
Durant figures to be the most adaptable of the three. Apart from having the most positional versatility, Durant does not hesitate to defer to teammates, a career-long lesson courtesy of Westbrook and the Splash Brothers, and he has the playmaking ability of a point guard. He benefits from having played in systems not specifically designed to highlight his skill set, but he also has never needed a system to showcase what he can do.
Also an NBA champion, Kyrie Irving will find solace in Harden’s ballhandling ability, taking some of the pressure off him when they share the court without Durant. Though LeVert’s playmaking had improved this season, Harden is an exponential upgrade over him and Spencer Dinwiddie, who is out for the season with a partially torn ACL.
Harden possesses perhaps the most singular offensive style of any player in NBA history. His tempo contrasts sharply with the way Irving plays as a primary ballhandler; though both have tight handles they are prone to exhibiting, Irving’s game has more fluidity, Vivaldi to Harden’s Krautrock. Opposing teams and large swaths of an otherwise indifferent NBA fanbase bristle at the way Harden deliberates, routinely winding shot clocks down to single digits without a pass or any visible progress, before bursting forth, stepping back and/or drawing a foul.
Their respective personalities may be the more important piece of the puzzle. Still away from the team and likely in violation of health regulations, Kyrie Irving hasn’t played since January 5 and is in tenuous communication at best with the Nets. This, after having nudged his way out of Cleveland in order to pilot his own team in Boston, only to spurn the Celtics in free agency to join with Durant. Harden just forced himself away from the team with which he won an MVP. Durant’s burner accounts are reading this now.
To their credit, the Nets seem to be attempting to build a Warriors-like environment, starting with ex-Warriors advisor and current head coach Steve Nash. He had the good sense to bring in his and Harden’s old coach Mike D’Antoni as an assistant this season as well as another old chum of their shared Phoenix Suns vintage in Amar’e Stoudemire. It’s a start.
But then, so was what the Nets had already, even before the arrivals of Durant and Irving. Some of Durant’s minutes in this early season, particularly those without Irving, have looked like early Thunder runs. LeVert and Allen had developed significant chemistry, and Durant wasn’t far behind. Watching him command complementary lineups recalled some of the best basketball that Durant has ever offered. Once again, the time seems to have passed too quickly.
Brooklyn had a fun young cast of characters in 2019; two years later, the team has mortgaged its future for the second time in a decade, albeit on much more (seemingly) reasonable terms. With the addition of Harden, the Brooklyn Nets have made it clear that this, right now, must be their time. It must be.
 While Lob City alumnus DeAndre Jordan is formerly an All-Star and all-NBA player, that was now four years ago, which may as well be decades ago in NBA time.
 As of this writing, the trade is not technically official – there are still some kinks to work out in the Victor Oladipo-Caris LeVert portion of the monstrosity.
 Generally, the idea of a Big Three revolves around at least one of the players, already at an All-Star or all-NBA level, arriving via free agency or trade rather than being homegrown. Otherwise, teams that would include several iterations of the Tim Duncan-era Spurs, the 2004 Detroit Pistons, the first Warriors championship team, the Shaq-Penny-Horace Grant Orlando Magic and any number of Celtics and Lakers squads from the late-1950s through the late 1980s. Given that Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green were all-NBA by the time Durant arrived, Golden State’s contribution to the discourse amounts to the first modern example of a Big Four.
 Ian Levy has a great breakdown of the Nets’ collective usage rates at Nylon Calculus.