James Harden’s fraying relationship with the Houston Rockets outfit he steered to eight straight playoffs has belatedly reached an inevitable conclusion – and the trade deal has tipped the NBA markets on their head.

Former MVP Harden will join the burgeoning Brooklyn Nets in a stunning four-team mega-deal also involving Indiana Pacers and Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Nets were already regarded as a genuine title threat following the return of superstar duo Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving from long-term injury layoffs. But the addition of Harden has seen their NBA Championship odds slashed from $7.00 to $3.75 – only just behind the defending champion LA Lakers ($3.60).

The Nets, who have never won an NBA title since joining the league in 1977, have also leapfrogged Milwaukee Bucks ($4.33) into the first line of betting to take out the Eastern Conference at $2.25. The Nets won their only conference titles in 2002 and ’03, with Jason Kidd the New Jersey-based side’s star.

Bets of $5,000 and $3,000 have already come in for the Nets to win it all following this morning’s trade bombshell.

With disgruntled pointscoring machine Harden’s form dipping, Houston slumped to 3-6 prior to their talisman’s exit. Harden is averaging 24.8 points per game – almost 10 points less than last season. He is second in the NBA for assists per game, however, with 10.4.

‘The Beard’ and KD reunite

The 6-6 Nets are meandering along mid-table in the East. But Durant has been in outstanding touch, despite missing all of last season with injury. KD and Harden previously played together at Oklahoma City Thunder – and their reunion will have punters and Brooklyn fans salivating.

But the Nets have had to give up some quality and depth to get their man. Caris LaVert is on his way to the Pacers via Houston, with the Rockets trading him for Victor Oladipo. Jarrett Allen and Taurean Prince are head for the Cavaliers. Aussie Dante Exum also leaves the Cavs to join the Rockets as part of the deal.

Harden’s arrival arguably sees the Nets with three top-20 players on their roster. Durant and Harden are in the top-five conversation. There’s no doubt the Nets view the blockbuster trade as an opportunity for immediate Championship success.

But the Lakers are still the team to beat. The LeBron-AD combination is proven and the early-season signs are they have widened the gap between themselves and the rest of the West.

The Lakers and Nets square off in a mouth-watering cross-conference clash on February 19 (AEDT) – and punters will be lining up to back a star-studded rematch in the NBA Finals in July.

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