James Harden is heading to Brooklyn, joining old teammate Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to give the Nets a potent trio of the some of the NBA's highest scorers.
The Nets agreed to acquire the league's three-time reigning season scoring champion from the Houston Rockets on Wednesday in a move he has sought for weeks, said a person with knowledge of the situation.
Harden is the centerpiece of a four-team deal that also involves the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Indiana Pacers, according to the person who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the trade call with the NBA — which signs off on all deals — had not been completed.
Once it is, the Nets will be able to trot out a lineup of three players capable of scoring 25 or more points on any night in a collection of firepower to rival any so-called Big Three of recent years.
They are loading up for a title run with three of the highest-paid players in the league. All are under contract through 2022-23, with Durant and Harden set to earn more than $40 million each of the next two seasons.
In the meantime, the Nets were short-handed for their road game against the New York Knicks. Brooklyn coach Steve Nash declined to discuss Harden but did confirm the players the Nets were trading were not in the building.
Off to a 6-6 start in his rookie season, now the former point guard and two-time NBA MVP will have to mold an offense that keeps the ball moving with three players worthy of having it in their hands.
"It's a simple game, but it becomes complicated when you put different personalities and players on the floor," Nash said. "Our group's done a really good job being unselfish this year and trying to move the ball and work together, so I've been proud of that."
The blockbuster deal provides a needed boost amid a period of drama for both franchises. It was struck less than 24 hours after Harden seemed to deliver a farewell address of sorts after the Rockets' loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night, and just before Irving was set to miss a fifth straight game with the Nets due to a personal matter.
At least four draft selections and additional pick swaps are also part of the trade, said the person familiar with the deal, who noted Victor Oladipo will go from Indiana to Houston and Caris LeVert will go from Brooklyn to Indiana. The Cavs will get Jarrett Allen and Taurean Prince from the Nets in the deal, another person familiar with the trade told the AP.
Harden, who has cycled through Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook as teammates in recent years, didn't think much of the roster the Rockets had around him this season.
"We're just not good enough I love this city. I literally have done everything that I can," Harden said Tuesday night. "I mean, this situation is crazy. It's something that I don't think can be fixed."
It couldn't, and now he's gone.
The Nets expect Harden to leave all that behind him and make a smooth transition. He should be much happier in Brooklyn, having played with Durant as Oklahoma City Thunder teammates when they were younger and remaining close still.
It was obvious the end was near Wednesday, when the Rockets told him they didn't want him at practice after his inflammatory comments about the team.
"We felt it was best for James and best for the group for him not to come to practice," first-year coach Stephen Silas said.
Close to two hours later, ESPN and The Athletic first reported Harden was being moved.
The disgruntled superstar, who was unable to get the Rockets past the Western Conference finals, had remained quiet through months of reports he was unhappy in Houston. Silas called the drama surrounding Harden an "all-around messed-up situation."
The Nets were ready to swoop in after a shaky defense during the early season proved their best chance to beat teams might be to outscore them.
They can certainly do that now. Durant has averaged 29.9 points in his first season back from surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles' tendon, and Irving had averaged 27.1 per game before leaving the team last week. Harden, who appears to be out of shape after joining the Rockets after training camp began, has averaged 24.8 points this season after three straight seasons above 30, a stretch that included being named the league MVP in 2018.
The Rockets are just 3-6, and only Minnesota has a worse record in the Western Conference. The team is clearly in disarray, and point guard John Wall, an offseason addition, called the situation "rocky."
Harden won each of the past three scoring titles by notable margins — 2.3 points over Anthony Davis in 2017-18, 8.1 points over Paul George in 2018-19 and 3.8 points over Bradley Beal last season. His average so far this season ranked 18th in the NBA, well off his usual pace.
It could pick back up again in Brooklyn, where Nash's assistant running the offense is Mike D'Antoni, Harden's coach during his best seasons in Houston.
D'Antoni didn't return after last season, and it quickly became clear Harden wanted to be gone, too. He did not show when camp opened and was later fined $50,000 for conduct detrimental to the league after attending an indoor event without a mask in violation of the NBA's health and safety protocol amid the COVID-19 pandemic.