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Nets face brand new dynamic after adding James Harden
SportsPulse: USA TODAY Sports’ Jeff Zillgitt breaks down the blockbuster trade that sent James Harden to the Nets and whether or not he can jell with teammates Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
SportsPulse, USA TODAY
The Brooklyn Nets take 87.9 shots per game this season. Nets star Kevin Durant attempts 18 shots per game, Kyrie Irving 20.1 and, before he was traded to Brooklyn, James Harden launched more than 20 shots per game for Houston, including 22.3 last season.
They are three of the highest usage rate – the percentage of plays used by a player while on the court – players in the NBA.
Now, they’re all on the same team, giving the Nets three of the most gifted players and scorers in the league. It’s an impressive collection of scoring – if the three stars can sacrifice and make it work.
Are there enough shots to go around and keep everyone happy?
Harden said in his introductory news conference with the Nets on Friday that he is willing to do what is required. Asked what kind of player Brooklyn is getting, Harden said, “An elite player, an elite teammate, an elite leader and guy that’s willing to do whatever it takes to rack up as many wins as we can – sacrifice.”
Even with three ball-dominant players, Harden, who is expected to play in Saturday’s game against Orlando as long all players involved in the trade pass their physicals, expressed belief that it can work.
“Depending on the game, depending on what’s going on throughout the course of the game, that’s going to determine who gets the ball and who makes the plays,” Harden said. “We’re all unselfish, we’re all willing passers and we play basketball the right way and that’s all that matters.”
Nets coach Steve Nash said it will be an adjustment.
“He’s played the same role for many years now, the same way, the same style,” Nash said. “We hope to emulate that in some ways, but in other ways, he’s going to have to adapt to playing with other guys, namely Kevin and Ky. That newness of that, but also the adjustment of ‘how do we make them all make each other better and fit together?’ … If they really want to win, they’ll find a way to play together. …
“It’s about finding the best way for them to jell and be efficient to the other. They’re all going to take a slightly less volume approach to playing now. There’s still plenty of shots to go around, there’s still plenty of opportunities to make plays to go around. But it’s not going to be in the same format it was before where they were largely the No. 1 focal point.”
As far as Harden’s departure from Houston, Harden regretted it played out in the ugly nature that it did, but said he didn’t disrespect Rockets teammates as DeMarcus Cousins alleged the day after Harden said the team wasn’t good enough to compete for a title.
“I wasn’t disrespectful to anyone,” Harden said. “Those guys, they just got there to Houston. I’ve been there for a very long time. I’ve been through all the ups and downs with that the organization. I just made it clear that the team as a whole wasn’t good enough to compete for a title. At the stage of my career where I am right now, that’s what I would love. …
“I regret because I don’t need the attention, especially the negative energy. I’ve never been that guy. There’s some things that I felt like were out of my character. But the ultimate goal was to get somewhere where I can compete and here I am in Brooklyn.”
He said he pursued a trade request following Houston’s loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2020 playoffs. Losing front-office exec Daryl Morey to Philadelphia and head coach Mike D’Antoni to Nash’s staff and the roster changes led to his decision.
“After the bubble, I just wanted to re-evaluate my career and the direction the organization was going,” Harden said, adding later, “I didn’t go as smooth as I would’ve loved it to go. But I think both sides are happy.”
Harden, an MVP winner, also thanked the Rockets for working with him on the trade and said he now has a legit chance to win a championship.
“It’s not a guarantee me coming to Brooklyn is guaranteeing a title,” he said. “But for me, giving myself a chance is very, very important. Wanting to get paid and take care of my family was very important to me. Now, at this stage of my career, it’s giving myself a chance to do something I haven’t accomplished in this league. That’s very important to me now. That’s why I’m here in Brooklyn.”
Asked how to describe his conditioning at this point of the season, Harden, who does not look like he’s in game shape smiled a big smile, his teeth framed by his trademark beard, and said, “Great.”