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James Harden may have cropped the Knicks out of The New Yorker cover, but it’s a good thing he’s on it, because in many ways he may have saved the Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving era. And if he isn’t healthy for the playoffs, the Nets season almost certainly will end in disappointment.

When the trade for Harden went down, it felt like it may have been a luxury, but it turns out acquiring him was a necessity. Brooklyn is 27-7 with Harden in the lineup, which includes many games without KD and several without Kyrie. Meanwhile, they are under .500 in contests where the original Brooklyn duo shares the floor sans The Beard.

Given everything they’ve gone through this season, the Nets could be closer to the play-in than a title if they didn’t make that deal with Houston. Don’t get me wrong, Durant and Irving are unbelievable players in their own right, but both are born scorers, Harden became Brooklyn’s engine. He’s the one of the Big Three who truly works as a playmaker and facilitator. Not to mention I think he helps more when it comes to defense and rebounding than he gets credit for.

He also helped in the sense that the work he put in while healthy likely spared his high profile teammates from a lot of scrutiny.

The state of Harden’s hamstring is now one of the most important factors in how the remainder of the NBA season will play out because it has become apparent the Nets won’t be winning anything without their most important, and ultimately best player.