The Whiteboard: Good chemistry is still the NBA’s secret weapon

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

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The Ben Simmons for James Harden swap has been completed and the ultimate perception of the trade will be based on how each team performs over the next 18 months or so. And as we wait for both players to debut for their new teams and begin that process, we get to soak in post-mortems and leaked reports of what happened behind the scenes.

On the latter count, Jake Fischer’s new piece at Bleacher-Report, focused on the end of Harden’s tenure in Brooklyn, has some doozies:

“For weeks he had grown weary of Harden’s purported commitment to the franchise. When Harden first took to the bench with right hamstring tightness, Durant was among the Brooklyn figures who were skeptical of the injury’s severity.”

“This summer, Harden and Durant never entered the same gym, and Durant was disappointed by the poor conditioning Harden sported during those early Nets practices. Harden was also increasingly candid about wanting to test free agency for the first time.”

“Kevin and James had a cold war going for the last several months that made everyone miserable.”

“Harden didn’t arrive at the Jazz game until halftime, sources told B/R. When it concluded and Brooklyn continued with its planned itinerary to Denver, Harden flew to Las Vegas, sources said.”


Good chemistry doesn’t just happen but the best NBA teams all have it

The dynamics of every team and every amalgamation of individual players is different. But, be it correlation or causation, there has always seemed to be a clear connection between good teams and good chemistry. Some teams seem to carry that chemistry as an organizational value (Spurs, Warriors, Heat). Others have been able to get lucky with star players or specific coaches who are able to manifest that chemistry even amid a chaotic organization (Monty Williams and Chris Paul with the Suns, Brad Stevens with the Celtics).

Good chemistry doesn’t last forever — roster and coaching changes, losing streaks, injuries can all stress personal relationships — and it can’t be guaranteed in any situation. But too often teams seem to be trusting players who are friendly to figure it out on their own. The Nets must have believed Durant, Irving and Harden (who clearly believed themselves) when they said they could make it work. They hired Steve Nash, in part, because they thought he would bring the right vibes to the Irving and Durant pairing. And the challenges this team has gone through over the past 18 months were enormous. But they weren’t unprecedented and they weren’t impossible to foresee. If this team was going to crack, this was how it was going to happen. That seemed clear from the jump, just like it was for the Lakers who have fractured in similar and similarly predictable ways.

I don’t know that there are concrete lessons here for the Nets, Lakers or anyone else. The Nets made a gamble, it didn’t work. It was probably worth the risk and they did a decent job of minimizing the damage as they worked their way out of it. And it’s easy for me, as an outsider, to poke at sore spots without any real internal knowledge of what they planned for and what steps they took. But chemistry and winning are inextricably linked and it still seems like far too many teams are counting on the latter to take care of the former.

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Other NBA stories:

Luka Doncic landed at the top of our 25-under-25 rankings, two years in a row. To celebrate, The Step Back commissioned a pair of custom sneakers for him.

Because of injuries, vaccinations and dissatisfaction the Brooklyn Nets’ Big 3 only played 16 games together. How might we remember them if they made it to 17?

It’s only been two games but the Pacers already appear to have found an absolute keep in Tyrese Haliburton. He has the skills and mindset to transform the organization and in a letter to Indiana he penned at The Players’ Tribune, he made clear that’s exactly what he’s out to do.

Tyreke Evans has been reinstated after a two-year ban for violating the NBA’s drug program. He’s just 32 years old and could be a useful piece for a few different playoff teams.

Bones Hyland has been an absolute steal for the Denver Nuggets and he’s going to look better and better next year when the full roster is healthy.

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