The only modern precedent for a core group at the level of Harden, Irving and Durant was when Durant went to the Golden State Warriors, where he won two championships alongside Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. With Harden, it should’ve been déjà vu. It ended up being a repeat, just not the one the Nets wanted.
In 2013, with the franchise struggling to attract fans in its new home of Brooklyn, the Nets acquired Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett from the Boston Celtics to team with Deron Williams and Joe Johnson. On paper, it was a brilliant move, giving the Nets a roster of All-Stars ready to compete for a championship, at the cost of lots of draft picks — one pick which became Jaylen Brown, a Celtics guard who was an All-Star last year — and cap space. (Sound familiar?) They won one playoff series before the team fell apart. (Again: Sound familiar?)
How It Fell Apart
It’s unclear why or when Harden became so disenchanted with the Nets that he wanted another change of scenery. Marks said that trade discussions began in earnest in the last couple of days. Just a week ago, Harden posted a picture on Twitter of himself on the court with Irving and Durant with the caption “Scary Hours!”
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They were certainly fearsome on the court. But they played together in only 16 games over the past two seasons including the playoffs, going 13-3. In the playoffs, they looked dominant against an overwhelmed first-round Celtics team and against the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference semifinals, at least initially. It was a tantalizing tease of what could have been.
Irving and Durant have missed dozens of games with injuries, and Irving has played in just 13 games this season because of his refusal to be vaccinated against Covid-19. That has kept him out of home games in Brooklyn because of a city mandate, and the team barred him from road games and practices until mid-December. Last month, Harden told reporters that he would vaccinate Irving himself. It was said in jest, but perhaps a seed of resentment was in there, too.
Unlike Durant, Harden declined to sign a contract extension before the season, saying he wanted to be “patient.” He can opt out and become a free agent this summer. But he added, “I’m in the right mind-set and knowing long-term that ultimately I want to be in Brooklyn for the rest of my career.”