In one breath, James Harden downplayed Kyrie Irving’s status as a deciding factor in his decision to seek a divorce from the Nets.
Later in the same answer, however, the 10-time All-Star said Irving’s part-time availability due to being unvaccinated for COVID-19 “definitely” affected the team this season until the sides pulled off the blockbuster trade that sent Harden to the 76ers and brought Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond and two first-round picks to Brooklyn last week.
“Very minimal, and obviously me and Ky are really good friends,” Harden said, during his introductory press conference Tuesday in Philadelphia, when asked how much Irving factored into his trade request. “Whatever he was going through or is still going through, that’s his personal preference.
“But it definitely did impact the team because originally me, Kyrie and KD [Kevin Durant] on the court — and winning covers up a lot of that stuff — but it was unfortunate that we played 16 games out of whatever it was. It is what it is but [being] here in Philly is an opportunity that I’m looking forward to.”
Now, playing with All-Star center Joel Embiid for coach Doc Rivers, Harden will chase his elusive championship with the Sixers instead of as part of the Nets’ Big 3, which won 13 of the 16 games they played together after Harden was obtained from the Rockets about 13 months ago.
Harden also revealed that Philadelphia was his “first choice” before he was dealt from Houston to Brooklyn in January 2021.
“I needed to be around guys who wanted to win and do what it takes to win,” Harden added. “The opportunity, the window is now. My job is to come out there and help the entire team win a championship this year and years going forward.”
According to the 32-year-old, his strained hamstring “feels really good” and his conditioning is “great,” though the Sixers announced Monday he will skip the All-Star Game this weekend due to the injury.
“There’s a lot that goes into it, obviously. It doesn’t happen overnight but I think just being around guys here, they have the right mindset,” Harden said. “After the break, it’s just ‘go time.’ As much as I can incorporate and figure things out fast, which probably won’t be long, the better things will be, but it shouldn’t take long at all. I pretty much can fit anywhere.”
The Nets are just 4-10 in the 14 games in which Irving has appeared in since he resumed playing road games on Jan. 5 at Indiana, but he will be ineligible to play Wednesday against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden due to New York City’s vaccination mandates.
DeAndre’ Bembry, who was placed on waivers by the Nets when the Harden trade was announced, is expected to sign with the Bucks, ESPN reported.