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Brooklyn Nets GM Sean Marks on Trading for James Harden

Marks has brought together a historic combination of scoring talent in Brooklyn

Sean Marks took the big swing this week, dealing from Brooklyn’s trove of quality young players and future draft picks to turn a big two into a big three with one of the most formidable collections of scoring talent on a single team in NBA history.

The trade that brought James Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, Taurean Prince, Rodions Kurucs, three first-round draft picks and four pick swaps was officially announced Thursday morning, and shortly afterward the Brooklyn general manager addressed the culmination of a deal that had been a steady part of the NBA rumor mill menu for months.

“The timing was right for us,” said Marks. “And fortunately, anytime you get an opportunity to acquire or try to acquire a player of this caliber it’s something you do look hard at is something we did. The process sped up very, very rapidly and very quickly over the last 48 hours.”

The Harden resume runs deep. He’s led the league in scoring with at least 30 points per game in each of the last three seasons, including a career-high 36.1 in 2018-19, and he’s 11th in NBA history with a career scoring average of 25.1. The 2017-18 MVP has six All-NBA First Team selections and eight straight All-Star Game appearances. He also led the league in assists in 2016-17, making him one of six players in NBA history to have led the league in both scoring and assists in their careers.

“We know what James is capable (of) on the court,” said Marks. “We've seen that, when you're bringing in an MVP, first NBA team caliber player, he knows what he's capable of doing. We've had conversations with him and he's so eager to get on the court with these guys and be part of this and start fresh. There's an excitement, I know our group is excited, our coaching staff is excited, again when we brought in (Kyrie Irving) and Kevin (Durant) you're learning from them, you're learning from how they want to play because there's no defense that they haven't seen already, the same thing from James. So we're going to be learning from James and he'll be adding his thoughts and process to Steve (Nash) and helping Steve and the coaching staff out. There's already a prior relationship there as well.”

That would be with Nets assistant coach Mike D’Antoni, Harden’s head coach in Houston for the last four seasons, when Harden took his game to historic levels. Significantly, Harden also goes back to his first days in the NBA with Durant. The two played together for three years in Oklahoma City after Harden was drafted third overall in 2009, going to the NBA Finals with the Thunder in 2012.

Like Harden, Durant is one of the great scorers in NBA history, ranking even higher all-time with a career average of 27.0 points. In nine games this season, Durant is averaging 29.4 points with frightening efficiency, shooting 53.7 percent overall, 46.2 percent from 3-point range, and 85.9 percent on free throws while getting to the line for 8.7 attempts per game.

Irving is averaging 27.1 points per game this season at similar rates — 50 percent overall, 42.6 from three, and 100 percent from the line. Between them, Durant, Harden, and Irving have three of the top seven usage rates among active players, all above 29 percent. All have a history of playing in a ball-dominant role, though sharing opportunities is something Durant clearly made work alongside Steph Curry and Klay Thompson while winning two titles in Golden State.

Marks addressed the fit, saying the players were proactive in emphasizing their priority was winning games and committing to making the combination work.

“These guys have given us the right answers,” said Marks. “They’ve said hey, they want to play together, they can see this fitting. They're at a time in their careers — I don't want to speak for each one of them because I let them have their own their own voice and their narrative around this — but I think they understand that there's without a doubt going to be some nights where one or two need to sacrifice for the other and so forth. But I think they're all looking for a common goal. We’re all looking for that common goal, as I've said before, is to be the last team standing. I think when you have a group that is willing to sacrifice, and play hard, play together on the court, and they already have a relationship, a prior relationship to this, so I think that will help.”

To bring Harden to Brooklyn, the Nets had to let go of some homegrown players who were core pieces of the team’s rise from the 21-win team that Marks took over during the 2015-16 season to consecutive playoff appearances the last two seasons, and a significant part of the identity the team established along the way.

“Our franchise loved those guys,” said Marks. “So a huge thank you to Caris and Jarrett and Rodions and Taurean for everything they've done. The narrative has been their fingerprints are all over this, you know it’s been all over this building, this franchise for as long as they've been here. And they’ll continue to be part of our family. But again, we have to make these hard decisions; it's never easy, it certainly wasn't easy yesterday when I had to talk to these players at the end of the day. And I don't want to make light of that situation, that we had to do this just to win a championship. There comes a lot of thought and a lot of process went into this, and a lot of collaboration through a variety levels, from ownership to the coaching staff, front office, everybody had a say in this. And we don't take lightly that we had to make some pretty tough decisions, without a doubt.”

The trade leaves Brooklyn with three open roster spots, and they’re also down two players due to injury in Spencer Dinwiddie and Nic Claxton. Barring any other additions this week, and depending on the status of Irving, who’s been out for personal reasons, and Tyler Johnson, who has been out due to the league’s COVID health and safety protocols, they may have only 10 players available in their next game against Orlando on Saturday, assuming Harden is available.

“I don't think we're in any immediate rush,” said Marks. “I think we have got to do our due diligence, look around the league, look at who is available and so forth. And again, also, look at this group and see how they play together and see what their needs may be and so forth. But we will work hand in hand with the coaching staff on this, just to see where our holes are. As I mentioned before, the roster is not complete. We know that. We are going to have to tinker, we're going to have to play around here and again, utmost faith in the group that we have that is going to be able to find guys elsewhere and we will see where it may go.”

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