Internet conjecture became reality - sort of - on Sunday night as ESPN reported James Harden has the Brooklyn Nets atop his list of preferred teams in the event he is traded from the Houston Rockets. Going to Brooklyn would reunite him with former teammate Kevin Durant and also Mike D'Antoni, who was his head coach in Houston and is now an assistant on Steve Nash's staff.
It is no doubt an intriguing partnership. Harden would join Durant, who is set to return from a ruptured Achilles, as well as Kyrie Irving and whatever else the Nets can keep on their roster. There is no question they would be a good team with that offensive firepower, even if defense would be left to the supporting cast.
Harden, though, would be better off going somewhere else. In fact, there are arguably several destinations that would give him a better chance of winning a title than Brooklyn would, but the one that stands out most is the Philadelphia 76ers.
With Harden, the Nets would form possibly the worst defensive backcourt in the league with him and Irving. Durant has played well on defense before, especially later in his career with the Warriors. But now he's coming back from Achilles surgery and his mobility may be affected.
A team led by Harden, Irving and Durant will be lucky to be average defensively and average defensive teams don't win titles. The worst defense in the last 10 years to win a championship was the 2017-18 Golden State Warriors, who ranked 11th in defensive rating. But they then locked down to have the best defense in the playoffs and they were also possibly the most talented offensive team ever.
Brooklyn was a good defensive team last year, ranking ninth in defensive rating despite placing 19th in points allowed. But landing Harden would require trading a host of their players. If they kept Jarrett Allen, that would certainly help, as he's a solid rim protector, averaging 1.3 blocks per game last season.
But in Philly, the defense is better - eighth in defensive rating, sixth in points allowed and the parts would complement his game more seamlessly. If they could somehow keep Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, Harden could lead the show on offense with them taking the initiative on defense. And if they had to trade either of them to get Harden, they would still have one nightly mismatch remaining. Both Simmons and Embiid are nightmares for opposing teams because few can counter their size and strength.
Picture a scenario where the Sixers keep Simmons and Embiid and meet the Lakers in the NBA Finals. Simmons can match up with LeBron James and Embiid with Anthony Davis. They may not be able to stop those guys, but they as a duo have as good a chance as anyone, given their similar athletic traits and the fact they are both All-Defense selections.
Against the Warriors, who are also likely to be very good, Brooklyn wouldn't be able to provide much resistance at all. But at least Philly would have a size and athleticism advantage and Embiid protecting the rim.
Philly and Brooklyn could probably put together similar packages for Harden, given they both have enticing secondary pieces and draft picks to spare. But the Sixers would be the better team with Harden in their lineup. Harden may want to reunite with Durant and D'Antoni, but maybe he should look to his former general manager Daryl Morey instead.