Boston Celtics

Feb 11, 2020; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) reacts after a play during the third quarter against the Boston Celtics at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

By Sean Sylver, 98.5 The Sports Hub

Just when we thought the biggest hoops news of the week would be the NBA schedule buckling under the stress of a pile of COVID-19 cancellations, we got a basketball story.

The basketball story.

As part of a four-team megadeal first reported Wednesday afternoon, the Brooklyn Nets reunited Kevin Durant and James Harden, pairing one of the most dominant offensive players in the history of the league with, well, a shameless grifter who also happens to be a three-time scoring champ and – like Durant – a former MVP.

It’s perhaps the most intimidating duo in an NBA universe obsessed with superstar pairings. Mix in Kyrie Irving, and the Nets boast more star power than any other organization. That’s a Triforce the caliber of the one (featuring Durant) that pulled down multiple championships in Golden State, the Cleveland trio (featuring Irving) that upset the Warriors in 2016, LeBron’s Miami Heat squads, or your very own 2008 Boston Celtics. 

Oh, sure, the Nets gave up a lot to get Harden: a stack of lottery tickets (four draft picks and four more pick swaps), for one. But also a budding star in 26-year-old Caris LeVert, a walking double-double and elite shot blocker in 22-year-old Jarrett Allen, and a solid reserve in 26-year-old Taurean Prince. Their bench is dangerously thin, even with Irving around to fill out the starting five. 

If and when Kyrie comes back, the Nets will have a super-team with him, Kevin Durant, and James Harden. (Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY)

And that’s the elephant in the room: Irving is currently somewhere between reevaluating his life priorities and taking a paid vacation and hasn’t been seen (except online) in over a week.

But Durant and Harden alone are enough to make Brooklyn the favorite in a wide-open Eastern Conference. 

The Bucks have the regular season pedigree but can’t get it done in the playoffs. The Heat are looking like they might be a one-year wonder. The Celtics lost Gordon Hayward and have their fingers crossed on Kemba Walker. The Pacers are a nice team, but they’re the Pacers. The 76ers were hoping to land Harden and flank Joel Embiid (who’s been balling out of his mind) with a complementary superstar.

Listen: Danny Ainge talks Celtics with Toucher and Rich

It wound up being Nets, who had the third-best preseason odds for the title with Durant and Irving on the marquee.  

Like they do at Cobra Kai, Brooklyn GM Sean Marks struck first and struck hard. Now, it’s on his rival East executives to paint the fence and sand the floor. Perhaps Danny Ainge is Daniel-san. Maybe he’ll use the Hayward trade exception sooner rather than later. Maybe he’ll be patient. But the Celtics just spent the last half-decade waiting for LeBron to pack his bags and head west.

MORE: Ainge details Celtics’ Harden trade talks

“The Process” is nearly a decade old in Philadelphia. Franchises looking to win with young talent – and break the string of NBA titles built on seismic trade acquisitions, like Anthony Davis for the Lakers or Kawhi Leonard for the Raptors – might just have to jump into the deep end of the pool.

The Nets just did a cannonball. The ripple effect will be fascinating.

Sean Sylver can be heard on 98.5 The Sports Hub. Talk hoops with him on Twitter @TheSylverFox.

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