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“James doesn’t have to explain anything to anybody,” Durant said before Saturday’s game against the Miami Heat. “He’s his own man. He makes his decisions on his career by himself. He doesn’t owe anybody an explanation, and I wasn’t looking for one.
“I’m just glad that we got this thing done and now we’re able to move forward and get some of this noise away, and I’m sure he would feel the same way. But from around our team and around our group, there’s noise about what may happen. So I’m glad we can push through that.”
Harden said as recently as a week and a half ago that he still felt the Nets could win a title this season if their roster was at full strength, but his tune clearly changed in recent days as he pushed for a deal to be reunited with Daryl Morey, his former general manager with the Houston Rockets, and now president of basketball operations with the Sixers.
For his part, Durant wouldn’t commit to the theory that he tried to get Harden to stay, adding that nothing he could have said would have swayed Harden’s decision anyway.
“I think once a person gets to that decision of ‘I’m unhappy,’ I think he’s gone through a lot of steps to get there,” Durant said. “So no matter what I say or try to convince someone — I’m not saying I did this, but this is just my theory on this — no matter what I say or do to try to convince someone to change their mood from being unhappy to happy, I think that’s when I’m pretty late to the party.
“He’s made his decision. I’m sure people make their decision before they get to that mode of being unhappy. I didn’t have any conversations with James up until then. I thought everything was solid. I don’t do any convincing. I’m sure you make those choices and decisions on your own as an individual. Me as a friend, I just have to accept it.”
Durant said he didn’t know Harden was unhappy with the Nets until reports surfaced over the past week that Harden wanted to leave Brooklyn. Durant hasn’t been with the team over the past few weeks as he continues his rehab from a sprained MCL suffered on Jan. 15. The second half of Thursday’s loss to the Washington Wizards marked the first time Durant sat on the bench with the team since his injury.
“I wasn’t around the team to really, really see the vibe,” Durant said. “But I know the losses hurt us, and I know my injury might have hurt the team a bit not being around. And then Kyrie [Irving] in and out the lineup. But I didn’t really get a feel for the team because I wasn’t around.”
Irving, who is not vaccinated against COVID-19, is not currently able to play in home games because of New York City’s vaccination mandate. Asked whether he felt Irving’s part-time status had an impact on Harden’s decision to push for a trade, Durant said, “I wouldn’t know.”
“There’s obviously going to be rumors about that,” Durant said. “Kyrie has always been an easy scapegoat for everybody, especially for the media and the fans, they love to use him as a scapegoat for a lot of problems. So it’s easy to blame him, but I can’t speculate on how James is feeling. I know a lot of the media will put that on him.”
Durant also demurred when asked how much of an impact Irving’s decision not to get vaccinated has had on the organization.
“That’s hard to gauge,” Durant said. “I haven’t really spoken to everybody about that. But as far as the basketball that’s being played on the floor, we’re all professionals and we understand what’s it like not having a guy in the lineup, so our jobs and what we do and how we operate as individuals, regardless of who’s on the floor, can’t change. So we all approach our jobs the same, but I’m sure some people wish it were different.
“But everybody’s spirit, when Kyrie wasn’t here and then when he was here … there hasn’t been any change in the atmosphere or the mood or the culture. Everything’s been sweet.”
The Nets, who came into Saturday’s game having lost 10 in a row, remain confident that Simmons, Curry and Drummond will be able to fit into the framework of their team smoothly, but it remains unclear exactly when Simmons will play in a game for the Nets. When asked if he believed the Nets could still win a title this season, Durant said he doesn’t view a season through that prism.
“I never really look at the year like that to be honest,” Durant said. “I mean, we got talent in the room. A lot of teams got talent, and winning a championship is obviously the goal. But there’s proper steps we’ve got to go through in order for us to get there. And things have been on pause for a bit, with injury, and now we’ve got to incorporate Ben and now get our team back together.
“So before I even think about the championship, I’m just trying to get us all on the floor to get some reps in. That’s the most important thing.”
Through a combination of injuries and Irving’s decision not to get vaccinated, the Nets had just 16 games with Durant, Harden and Irving together on the floor over the past two seasons. They went 13-3 over those games before Harden’s trade ended the Nets’ short-lived Big Three experiment. Durant said he didn’t want to spend time wondering what might have been if Harden had stayed.
“I’m only about what happened,” Durant said. “I mean, I feel like the basketball we played was a good brand of basketball while we were out on the floor; so I can live with what we did. The outside noise and all that other stuff that happened, and how people feel about their time here … but once we actually laced them up and played basketball together, I think it was a good brand. So you could live with that.”