With all the drama surrounding James Harden this season, a trade was inevitable. On Wednesday, the Brooklyn Nets acquired James Harden, but at what cost? Well, they sent away Jarrett Allen, Caris LeVert, and four first round picks. Eerily like the Nets trade in 2013, they yet again mortgaged their future. However, this time it may result in something more than a second-round exit. The question for eastern conference teams now is who can stop them?
The most obvious candidate to take down the super-team Nets are the Milwaukee Bucks. Led by the winner of the last two MVP awards, Antetokounmpo is ready to take the next stride and get to the NBA Finals. However, did the Bucks do enough in the offseason to compete with this Nets team?
The biggest issue that has plagued the Bucks up until this point is a lack of help for Giannis when he’s on the court and when he goes to the bench. Second-hand man Khris Middleton continues to pass every test during the regular season, yet struggles in the postseason. Adding Jrue Holiday for Eric Bledsoe is an improvement on both ends of the court. Bobby Portis has also emerged as one of their better scoring options off the bench.
I don’t see the Bucks upsetting the Nets this year mainly because of a lack of firepower. Teams have shown that it is easy to game plan for just Giannis for seven games. If Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday, and the rest of the Bucks core don’t step up, we could see another second-round exit from Milwaukee.
Another team who has a shot to come out of the east is the Boston Celtics. Led by Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, the Celtics continue to improve every year. There is no other Eastern Conference team who matches up to the Nets as well as the Celtics do. Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Marcus Smart are a great trio of defenders to match the Nets big three. Once Kemba Walker returns, the Celtics will have their all-important third scoring option back.
Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown’s continued improvement is getting scary. Every single year each of these two guys seems to get significantly better than they were the year prior. This season so far, Jaylen Brown is averaging 26.3 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 1.7 steals on .539/.421/.767. Tatum, on the other hand, is averaging 26.9 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 1.0 steals on .474/.438/.889 shooting. The two can score at a high level efficiently and defend very well. Watch out for the Celtics come playoffs.
The final team with a shot to unseat the Nets this year are the Philadelphia 76ers. Both the Sixers and Lakers have what could be the Nets’ kryptonite: a talented big man. Are the Nets going to rely on DeAndre Jordan guarding Joel Embiid for the entire game all series? If that’s the plan of attack, the Sixers are going to push them to their limits.
Provided Tobias Harris can maintain the level of play that earned him a $180 million contract, the Sixers won’t even need to rely on Simmons for scoring. The additions of Seth Curry and Danny Green help give Embiid space to work in the paint, which hurt them severely in the past. Rookie Tyrese Maxey has come on sooner than expected because of COVID but could be playing a key role in their run this year.
If the Nets can figure out their on and off court chemistries, they will coast through the east. However, with the drama we have seen Irving and Harden provide, that is not a given. Boston, Philly, and Milwaukee should all give them a run for their money. In the end, however, I’m expecting a Lakers vs. Nets Finals.