By BRIAN MAHONEY
AP Basketball Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — James Harden isn’t surprised Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving wanted out of Brooklyn, having tired quickly of the “dysfunction” he saw in his brief time with the Nets and asking out.
“I didn’t just ask to leave for no reason,” Harden said.
Harden was traded to Philadelphia at the 2022 trade deadline. By the time he came back Saturday just a year later for the first time in the regular season, Durant and Irving were also gone.
He wouldn’t specify his reasons for souring so quickly, but made clear he felt there were problems within the Nets organization.
“There was just a lot of dysfunction — clearly. There was a lot of internal things that I’m not going to ever just say or put in the media or anything, and that was one of the reasons why I chose to make my decision,” Harden said after scoring 29 points in the 76ers’ 101-98 victory.
“But now, fast forward to today, I don’t look like the crazy one,” he added. “I don’t look like the guy, or the quitter or whatever the media want to call me. Like, I knew what was going on and I just decided to, like, I’m not built for this. I don’t want to deal with that. I want to play basketball and have fun and enjoy doing it.”
Harden was acquired from Houston in January 2021 and the Nets quickly became a championship favorite with their potent lineup. But they lost in the second round of those playoffs after both Irving and Harden were injured against Milwaukee, then struggled to get off the ground in 2021-22 after Irving refused to be vaccinated against the coronavirus so he could be eligible to play in all their games.
After Durant sprained his knee in January 2022, the Big Three was often down to just one and Harden’s effort and interest seemed to wane while forced to carry a team that had to play unproven players around him. He told the organization he wanted to leave and the Nets sent him to the 76ers in a package for Ben Simmons.
Harden wouldn’t say if the Nets’ problems — or his frustrations — started with the difficulty in being able to count on Irving.
“I mean, that’s not something that I’m going to answer,” Harden said. “But the reason I made that decision to get out of my comfort zone, which was leave Houston and do everything that I did to get out of there, was to come in and play with KD and Kyrie. And with that being said, that didn’t happen as much as I would like to or probably the organization wanted to.”
It turned out to only be 16 games.
Durant originally asked for a trade last summer and finally got it Thursday when the Nets dealt him to the Phoenix Suns. A few days earlier, the Nets had moved quickly to grant Irving’s request to leave by dealing him to the Dallas Mavericks.
“There’s a lot of possibilities of what could’ve happened, but it’s part of life,” Harden said. “Move on, and I’m sure everybody’s in a better place, a good place.”
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