It’s all water under the bridge at this point, but it seems like we we shall continue learning more about the unceremonious end to the Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, James Harden Big 3 era in Brooklyn.
Harden is of course in Philadelphia, where the 76ers are 3-0 in his brief stint with Joel Embiid. Whatever hamstring issue the former league MVP may (or may not) have been dealing with here appears to be resolved. The Nets of course continue their downward spiral. They’ve lost 16 of their last 19 games, although Kevin Durant has finally returned.
Brooklyn now trails the 7th place Toronto Raptors by three games in the standings. That means if they season ended today, they’d be heading to Canada for a road tilt with Fred VanVleet, Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam and the Raps in a country where Kyrie Irving cannot play- no matter what happens in NYC with vaccine passports.
And it sounds like that scary (and surprisingly specific) scenario was something on Harden’s list of reasons he wanted a permanent change.
Ian Begley of SNY has a bit more intel about the now bitter divorce:
“According to a source, the prospect of playing the Raptors in the postseason was one of the reasons James Harden was concerned about Irving’s vaccine status earlier in the season. Harden, as you know, forced a trade from Brooklyn to the Philadelphia 76ers prior to the deadline.”
Very curious. In the days and weeks before the NBA Trade deadline it started to sound more and more as if Irving’s apparently frustrating part-time statue might somehow be resolved in time for the playoffs.
There were winds of change swirling in New York at State and City levels pre Feb. 10 trade deadline.
Why exactly Harden had Brooklyn atop his list of teams when he was angling for a way out of Houston back in early 2021, nobody questioned. His Rockets were clearly a sinking ship. The Nets on paper were a super team, and seemed like his ticket to etching his own name in stone. Harden is likely bound for the Hall of Fame even if he were to retire tomorrow. But a championship ring would vault him into the upper echelons of the top 75 list he’s already cracked.
So why he wanted out is more of a mystery and probably not centered on one particular issue or player.
Sure we heard there was a cold war being waged between him and Kevin Durant. Sure we heard Kyrie’s vaccination status and lack of availability was a key.
And if those changes to vaccination mandates did not come in time for the playoffs, perhaps they would have come by Harden and Irving’s looming 2022 free agency. If Harden was so frustrated Irving was part-time only, would he have been more open-minded to staying once it started to feel Irving might be full time somewhere in the future?
And who knows, maybe Harden also factored in the chances nothing would change. NYC Mayor Eric Adams recently said he does not want to make a change for a singular athlete.
"I have to follow the rules, and trust me I want Kyrie Irving on the court. We are here right now, opening our city because of vaccine mandates. We can't close down again. I cannot have my city close down again."
-Mayor Adams on Kyrie Irving situation. Tough update #NetsWorld https://t.co/a5O5bg4SDQ
— DaveEarly (@DavidEarly) February 28, 2022
What we know is this: the current Nets have not shied away from questions about how dire their standings hurdle has become. There are scenarios where they’re in a Play-In match at home without Irving, or in a city like Toronto where he is not eligible either. Both mean no Irving as of today.
"I know a lot of fans that are watching us had high expectations for us coming into the season and expected us to run away with the championship. If you're a fan and you appreciate Nets basketball and what we're trying to build, you'll follow us along this journey" – Kevin Durant pic.twitter.com/oEro8NJ8W4
— Nets Videos (@SNYNets) March 3, 2022
And maybe the mere idea of losing that way and not even making the playoffs was a proverbial straw that broke the camel’s hamstring, who knows?
The team just lost Joe Harris for the season. If it’s at all possible Harden smelled that this ship was somehow sinking, well fine. But on the other hand, if he had stayed and played the way he’s playing now in Philly, there’s a great chance they wouldn’t be a Play-In team. And there’s an outside chance he could have carried them to a six seed in time for Durant and Irving to both become full-time players.
As we said at the top it’s all water under the bridge. But as these hours get scarier and scarier for the 2022 Nets, it’s still tempting to wonder about the many what ifs. What we do know is this: if the Raptors fans were so into a recent game they booed Goran Dragic every time he touched the ball, it would be an absolute mad house if the Nets had to go there for a win-and-you’re-in scenario. And not having Kyrie available could spell disaster for the Nets.