Former NBA MVPs and future Hall of Famers James Harden and Kevin Durant have endured not one, but two notable breakups throughout their illustrious careers.
The first one, of course, came back in 2012 when Harden rejected a contract extension from the Oklahoma City Thunder. This prompted the front office to trade him to the Houston Rockets, leaving Durant and Russell Westbrook one more star short.
Early in the 2020-21 season, the two were reunited when the Brooklyn Nets acquired Harden in a blockbuster trade with Houston. With Harden, Durant and Kyrie Irving forming the new “big three” in Brooklyn, the Nets seemed well-positioned for long-term success.
But their tenure together in Brooklyn barely lasted more than a year, as Harden was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers back in February in a blockbuster move that brought Ben Simmons to the Nets.
During an interview with Yaron Weitzman of FOX Sports, Harden addressed his highly-discussed departure from Brooklyn. In the interview, the 2018 league MVP spoke on the notion that he simply “quit” on the Nets, suggesting that it was a different Brooklyn star who gave up on the team:
“I just feel like, internally, things weren’t what I expected when I was trying to get traded there. I think everybody knows that. And I knew people were going to talk and say, ‘You quit’ and all that stuff, but then the following summer, the other superstar there (Durant) wanted to leave. So it’s like: Am I still the quitter?”
Weitzman also reported that two superstars clashed because Durant wasn’t happy with Harden’s conditioning while they were teammates in Brooklyn:
“Also, Harden and Durant, according to multiple Nets sources butted heads during the season – Durant didn’t think Harden was in peak physical shape, and told him as much; Harden, meanwhile, struggled to adjust to an ecosystem where everything was no longer catered to him. According to a friend, Harden also became frustrated with the Nets training staff and its focus on maintenance, rest and recovery; after all, in Houston he’d run stadium stairs and lift – even after games sometimes – and he never got hurt.”
The Harden trade looked like a win for the 76ers in the early going. Simmons didn’t play at all in 2021-22 as he focused on his mental health. He was gearing up for a return in the postseason but had to miss the team’s first-round series against the Boston Celtics (a four-game sweep for the C’s) with a back injury.
Philadelphia finished 51-31 with Harden and Joel Embiid leading the way, and they took down the Toronto Raptors in opening round play. They wound up losing to the top-seeded Miami Heat in the second round.
Entering play on Friday, the Nets and 76ers boast records of 17-12 and 15-12, respectively. So right now, the trade feels a lot more even for both sides.
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