As Harden settles into his new digs with the Philadelphia 76ers, the Nets are relieved to begin a new chapter. For some, the decision to move on from the former MVP was easy. However, few struggled with the trade as much as Kevin Durant.
KD was the driving force behind Brooklyn acquiring Harden from the Houston Rockets last season and believed the two of them, as well as Kyrie Irving, could lead the Nets to a title. But with the clock ticking toward the deadline, even Durant knew Harden’s time in NYC was coming to a close.
James Harden was granted his wish and dealt to the 76ers
Considering the Nets came within a toe of eliminating the Milwaukee Bucks last postseason, no one would argue their championship candidacy in 2021-22. Even with Irving playing on a part-time basis, Brooklyn was undoubtedly going to be heavily in the mix come playoff time.
And yet, that wasn’t enough for Harden to stick around.
Over the last several weeks, the 32-year-old made it clear how unhappy he was in Brooklyn. It started with reports claiming he wanted to test free agency for the first time in his career. Then, it was frustration regarding Irving’s vaccination status. It all spiraled into a trade demand that forced Brooklyn’s hand.
A few hours before the deadline, the Nets succumbed to his wishes and sent the disgruntled star to a division rival. Harden and veteran Paul Millsap went south to Philadelphia in exchange for Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond, and two first-round picks.
After trading for Harden last January, the Nets envisioned a superstar trio for multiple seasons. In the end, the trio played just 16 games together before the Beard forced his way out.
Kevin Durant gave the Nets permission to trade Harden
The more Harden pushed for a deal, the longer his enemy list grew. By the end, it’s fair to say the 10-time All-Star lost all support from his own organization, including his teammates.
Even Durant knew a trade was for the best.
Jake Fisher of Bleacher Report dropped a report on Tuesday explaining Durant’s role throughout the Harden deal. According to Fisher, KD was initially in favor of smoothing things over with his old Oklahoma City Thunder teammate. However, once it became clear Harden had checked out, Durant made the call to general manager Sean Marks to pursue a deal.
“KD didn’t want to get rid of James,” one person familiar with the two superstars said. “But he knew it was over.”
“Kevin was like: ‘F*** it. James isn’t bringing s***,” another figure with knowledge of Brooklyn added. “I don’t think that would have happened without Kevin making that decision.”Jake Fischer
“Kevin’s the one that pulled the trigger with this,” another source told Fisher. “Kevin’s the one that said, ‘Do this deal.’ There was growing concern that this entire season would be lost and then they’d lose James for nothing.”
A Harden-Durant playoff series is on the table
There’s a new big three in Brooklyn, with Simmons serving as the new All-Star running mate next to Durant and Irving. Meanwhile, Harden and Joel Embiid makes for one of the more-impressive duos in recent NBA history.
Given the absurdity of this trade and everything that led to it, it’s only fitting these stars meet in a playoff series for the ages.
The Nets certainly have questions surrounding Simmons, who hasn’t played all season for personal reasons. The three-time All-Star is a much different player than Harden, so it will take some time to get acclimated. However, his playmaking and defense should be major additions to a 30-27 club clinging onto the eight-seed.
Meanwhile, the Sixers have overcome Simmons’ absence with an MVP effort from Embiid. But how will Harden, a ball-dominant scorer, coexist with the center? At 34-22, Philadelphia has some time for the stars to build chemistry. And if it works, it will be amongst the East’s favorites.
Even with all the uncertainty surrounding these teams, one thing is for sure. We as basketball fans will be incredibly lucky should Harden’s 76ers and Durant’s Nets meet for an epic playoff showdown.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.