NEW YORK (AP) — James Harden arrived in Brooklyn and predicted his partnership with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving would be “ scary hours.”
It was over in a New York minute.
Not just that trio, but an entire era in Brooklyn.
It ended so quickly, in fact, that when Harden returns to Brooklyn on Saturday for the first time in the regular season, barely a year after he was traded to Philadelphia, he won’t find either Durant or Irving waiting.
Now they’re gone. Three superstars came, and one by one asked to be traded.
“So it didn’t work,” general manager Sean Marks said. “Some of that is through things we can control and that we can’t control.”
Durant was the last to leave, traded to Phoenix on Thursday. Irving was dealt to Dallas just days earlier.
Those two friends had decided to come to Brooklyn together in 2019. Harden joined them early in the 2020-21 season after a trade.
Durant and Harden had combined for seven scoring titles. All three were perennial All-Stars. The Nets were favored to finally win the championship they’ve been chasing since joining the NBA.
“We had James and we were supposed to be this super team,” Irving said. “We played very limited time together and there were a lot of injuries and things that took place. I would have liked to see that work for the long term, but there are no mistakes, no coincidences.”
Nor was there anything close to a championship.
There were illness and injuries, so sometimes they just couldn’t play.
In Irving’s case, sometimes he just wouldn’t.
The bottom line is Durant, Irving and Harden played just 16 games together, winning one playoff series.
“We’ve had a lot of frustration here with not being able to get that group on the court consistently and seeing what it really looks like,” Marks said. “I think that’s one of the biggest frustrations, where we really didn’t see them and what they could look like.”
It looked awesome at its peak. The Nets rolled past Boston in five games in the first round of the 2021 playoffs and overpowered Milwaukee in the first two games of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
But Harden strained his hamstring early in that series and Irving sprained his ankle in Game 4. The Bucks would rally and win the series with an overtime victory in Game 7 in Brooklyn and go on to win the championship.
The Nets figured to be favorites again in 2021-22, but the season was derailed right from the preseason when Irving refused to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. That meant he was ineligible to play in home games and the Nets at first said he wouldn’t play at all until he could play in all their games.
Eventually, they brought him back in January to play on the road, but by then Harden had become disillusioned. He asked out and the Nets sent him to the 76ers in a deal that brought back Ben Simmons on Feb. 10, 2022.
After they were swept in the first round by Boston, Durant asked to be traded, frustrated in part by the Nets’ 5-16 record while he was sidelined by a sprained knee ligament. Around the same time, the Nets were refusing to give Irving a contract extension, having grown to question his reliability and forcing him to opt into the final year of his deal.
Durant eventually withdrew that, but they couldn’t convince him to stay once Irving asked to be traded last week and the Nets quickly accommodated the point guard. Marks didn’t want to say if Durant’s desire to leave was due to Irving’s departure.
“I don’t want to speak for the guys that are no longer here and why they left,” Marks said.
The Nets still have a chance to be a playoff team. They are 33-22, fifth in the East, having gotten as high as second after ripping off an 18-2 stretch earlier this season when Durant and Irving enjoyed perhaps their best run together.
Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson from Phoenix, and Spencer Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith from Dallas all should fit well with the Nets’ style of play under Jacque Vaughn and strengthen the team defensively. The draft picks they acquired along with them will provide options to shape the roster.
But it almost always takes having superstars on the roster to win an NBA title. The Nets had three.
“For the last couple of years, we have been a team that you could have said if things go right — health, whatever, consistency, continuity on the court — they have a chance to win a championship, you know, purely from talent,” Marks said.
Those days, and now Durant and Irving, are gone.
“They’re taking their talents elsewhere,” Marks said, “and like all other basketball fans, we’ll be watching from afar. But our focus now is the guys in the locker room.”