Why Harden, Durant and Kyrie may have been better off in Brooklyn

Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Brooklyn Nets. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Brooklyn Nets. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) /

The NBA season has officially concluded for the Nets’ former ‘Big Three’ of James Harden, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Looking back on it now, would they have been better off just sticking it out in Brooklyn? 

In the 2020-21 NBA season, the Brooklyn Nets were oh-so-close.

After adding James Harden to their dynamic duo of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, the Nets took off in a major way in the second half of the NBA season. Harden played MVP-caliber ball after coming over via trade from the rebuilding Houston Rockets, and the Nets looked like a serious force to be reckoned with.

When the playoffs rolled around, Brooklyn’s momentum only continued.

With their ‘Superteam’ fully intact, the Nets mopped the Boston Celtics in the opening round of the playoffs, 4-1, despite excellent play from (then) up-and-coming star Jayson Tatum. Brooklyn looked unbeatable with Durant, Harden and Irving on the floor together.

In the second round of the postseason, the Nets jumped out to a quick 2-0 series lead over a superb Milwaukee Bucks team, led by the unstoppable Giannis Antetokounmpo. Unfortunately for Brooklyn, Irving went down with an ankle injury and the pendulum of the series swung.

James Harden also got injured for the Nets, yet they managed to take the series all the way to overtime of Game 7. One toe-on-the-line deep shot from Durant ended up being the difference in the series.

Of course, Giannis and his Bucks went on to win it all. Everyone could see how close the Nets were to being the best team in the NBA.

When the Nets’ Superteam eventually broke up, did Irving, Durant and Harden actually end up in better situations?

We all know what followed over the course of the next couple of years: Harden hated living in Brooklyn and pushed his way toward Philly in an eventual trade that sent Ben Simmons to the Nets.

Kyrie had every bit of drama under the sun, including his unvaccinated status, ‘personal’ time off and offensive anti-Semitism. He was eventually traded to the Dallas Mavericks for Spencer Dinwiddie, Dorian Finney-Smith and picks.

This past offseason, Durant demanded a trade. He eventually got his wish during the season, when he was dealt to the Phoenix Suns for Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson and picks.

And how did all that work out?

Durant and Harden both went out in the second round of the playoffs, and Kyrie missed the playoffs altogether. Should they have simply kept the band together in Brooklyn?

Why Harden, Durant and Kyrie were probably better off in Brooklyn 

I’m aware that both interpersonal and financial issues came into play in the quick devolution of the Nets’ Superteam, but for the purposes of this piece, I’m simply talking about on-court chemistry and value.

On the court, the Nets’ Big Three ended with a 13-3 record together.

The balance made sense because Harden slinks away in the big moments, while Durant and Kyrie are more than willing to take and make the big shot. Harden prefers to be the distributor, and he was operating perfectly in that role.

In their moves elsewhere, things only got harder. The Mavs and Suns both depleted their depth to acquire Kyrie and KD, respectively. Both players ended up in more difficult situations to navigate, in comparison to having the full Big Three together in Brooklyn.

In Philly, Joel Embiid apparently isn’t the guy to get Harden over the hump in his postseason career. In Game 7 against the Celtics yesterday, Embiid shot an embarrassing 5-of-18 from the floor, then threw his teammates under the bus during the postgame press conference. Harden and Embiid are yet to accomplish anything in Philadelphia.

In the end, the Nets had the right on-court mix when it came to Durant, Kyrie and Harden. If both Kyrie and Harden didn’t get hurt against the Bucks in 2020-21, it’s plausible to assume they could have won the NBA Championship.

But now? Everything feels wrong for the Nets’ former Big Three. Everything feels off. It feels like their careers are slowly fading toward retirement.

Looking at the totality of the situation now, Nets fans can only wonder one, logical thing: What if?

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