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NEW YORK -- On Nov. 20, Sean Marks said that the Brooklyn Nets would not "mortgage the future." The general manager didn't say James Harden's name, nor did the reporter who asked the question, but neither needed to. Harden reportedly wanted to be in Brooklyn, and the Houston Rockets wanted established talent plus multiple first-round picks in any deal. 

Marks spoke about the Nets' dilemma in general terms: In weighing the pros and cons of any trade, not just the ones that involve a star player, you must take into account the present and the future. "I think we want to build something sustainable here," he said. "This is not something that is a fleeting moment." Marks didn't want to set them up for a rebuild in a couple of years and strip them of the assets necessary to do it. He also wanted to take advantage of the moment. 

If Marks were the general manager of any other team, this would have been nothing more than a reasonable answer to a tricky question. Here, however, it was funny. Marks' presence in Brooklyn is the result of the franchise badly bungling this calculation -- the Nets' previous regime infamously traded three unprotected first-round picks and a pick swap for the aging Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in 2013, a move that would send them to NBA purgatory. For the months that preceded Brooklyn's trade for Harden on Wednesday, comparisons were inevitable. They are about to be ubiquitous.

In the end, Marks' front office reportedly parted with 22-year-old center Jarrett Allen, 26-year-old guard Caris LeVert, unprotected first-round picks in 2022, 2024 and 2026 and pick swaps in 2021, 2023, 2025 and 2027 in exchange for Harden and the Cleveland Cavaliers' 2024 second-round pick. This is unequivocally a higher price than Billy King's Nets paid for Garnett and Pierce.

It should be. When they made their Brooklyn debuts, Pierce was 36 and Garnett was 37. Harden is 31, and in his first game of the season dropped 44 points and 17 assists. Even after a string of subpar performances (and even though he's in suboptimal condition), Harden is averaging 24.8 points on 61.3 percent true shooting, plus 10.4 assists and 5.1 rebounds. The Nets now have three All-NBA-caliber perimeter players -- and three of the most skilled scorers in NBA history -- on the roster. It is unclear how anybody is going to guard them. 

SportsLine projects Brooklyn to have the second-best chance of winning the 2021 championship. There are questions about how Harden will fit next to Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant on offense and what this trade will do to the Nets' defense, but they can still make more moves: They have their $5.7 midlevel exception, a surplus of second-round picks and three roster spots to fill, and they might get a disabled player exception because of the season-ending injury to Spencer Dinwiddie, whose expiring contract could potentially be used in a trade. 

Nets coach Steve Nash did not directly address the news before Brooklyn's game against the New York Knicks on Wednesday, as it is not yet official. In his 10-minute media availability, there might have been more deflections than Nash had in his Hall of Fame career. "I don't want to do this dance all night, I can't comment on the rumors," he said, in response to a question about bringing in a superstar versus competing with homegrown players. "But we know this is a star's league."

From a broad perspective, there is no better takeaway than that. It's not just that the Nets needed to develop players and build a culture in order to lure superstars like Durant, Irving and, eventually Harden; it's that the whole point of developing players and building a culture is to lure superstars. If this trade doesn't represent mortgaging the future, then no trade does. When you have a 32-year-old Durant and a 28-year-old Irving, though, the present is the main thing.

Brooklyn knows as well as any franchise how going all-in can backfire. Half-measures, however, don't typically lead to titles. Blockbuster trades in the 2018 and 2019 offseasons produced the last two NBA champions. In 2012, the last time Harden was traded, the team that sent him away was looking for what Zach Lowe, then of Grantland, described as the "middle ground" between sustainability and "going for it." In the same story, the executive who acquired Harden says, "If you've got even a 5 percent chance to win the title -- and that group includes a very small number of teams every year -- you've gotta be focused all on winning the title." Durant and Irving expect nothing less. 

No front office is comfortable trading away young talent and a boatload of future picks. The downside is scary, and skepticism is inevitable. You have always needed stars to win titles, though, and these days most stars sign short-term contracts. Durant (and his two co-stars) can hit free agency again in the summer of 2022. Shortly after the trade was reported, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported that it will increase Brooklyn's chances of re-signing him.