Did James Harden and Kevin Durant Miss Huge Opportunity with Kyrie Irving on the Nets?

Out of the three, Kyrie Irving is the first to make it back to the Conference Finals after the trio went their separate ways.

It's been two and half years since the trio of Kyrie Irving, James Harden and Kevin Durant disassembled -- a formidable big three that could compete with any big three in NBA history. When the quest for a championship in Brooklyn first rose about in 2019 amongst Irving and Durant, Harden made his way to the city that never sleeps in the most dramatic way possible to join forces and make this thing happen.

Harden's antics started when he showed up late to the Houston Rockets' training camp in 2020. Due to the league's COVID protocols at the time, once he got there late, Harden then had to test negative for the virus for six consecutive days. This forced him to miss Houston's first two games of the season. To add insult to injury, nine games into the Rockets' season, Harden went on a rant during the postgame press conference on essentially much why he was going to be leaving.

"We're just not good enough," he said after losing to the Los Angeles Lakers. "I love this city. I literally have done everything that I can. This situation is crazy. It's something that I don't think can be fixed."

Before you know it, Harden was traded to the Nets in a blockbuster deal. The trio of himself, Irving and Durant started off on the right foot. However, injuries became their common enemy for the rest of the 2020-21 campaign. Upon the start of the next season, it was in fact Harden who began his antics again, but this time to the detriment of the Nets.

"I've never been a free agent before," said the former Nets guard in an interview with ESPN's Malika Andrews when asked about a contract extension with Brooklyn following Durant's contract extension in the summer leading into that season. "I've always just been loyal and just signing contract extensions and just being there being there being there."

Not only did this take a toll on team morale considering Harden's teammates did not know where his head was at in regards to staying committed to get one more crack at a championship in Brooklyn, which is what Blake Griffin expressed he wanted, but this also came off that the former Nets guard was more excited about being a free agent for the first time rather than actually focusing on winning a championship with the Nets like he claimed in the same interview.

For Irving, this put him in a tough position, and after watching him recently get to the Conference Finals with the Dallas Mavericks it makes you wonder if Harden and Durant went about things wrong with Irving in Brooklyn. Perhaps the backcourt could have negotiated something behind the scenes that could have won over Harden's approach to all of this.

But then again, it also was not Irving's responsibility to change what Harden already made up his mind about in regards to the next chapter of his career. Perhaps Durant, who is closer to Harden, could have had the magic words. At this point, it was just a whole bunch should have, could have, would have for this trio. By the trade deadline of that 2021-22 season, Harden was in such a rush to leave that he had requested to be traded instead of letting his contract finish. Nets GM Sean Marks granted his request and traded him to the Philadelphia 76ers and that was the end of the trio of Irving, Harden and Durant.

Two years after this big three dispersed, off the back of beating the Nets during the season, Durant couldn't help but smile after hearing that his new big three in Phoenix had already played more games together than his former Nets big three.

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Ajayi Brown

AJAYI BROWNE

Ajayi has covered the NBA for several years, most notably covering the league at large for SLAM and the Brooklyn Nets at several outlets before joining Inside the Nets.