Around this time last season, Sixers fans were waiting with bated breath to see if Team President Daryl Morey could execute a blockbuster trade involving disgruntled former first overall pick Ben Simmons.
Then on Jan. 25th, 2022, Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports (writing for BleacherReport at the time) broke a report titled “Sources explain why James Harden would welcome new scenery next season.”
The piece named Philadelphia and Joel Embiid specifically. Whattt!?
Fischer was all over the trail of breadcrumbs, but not even he predicted that it would get done before the Feb. 12th 2022 trade deadline. When it did, fans around the NBA were stunned.
That’s in our rearview, and recently Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving (of all people), appeared to call out his former teammate in Harden for not being all in a season ago.
Kristian Winfield of The New York Daily News recently asked Irving what might be different this season, holding the line with Kevin Durant out for an extended period time. After all, the team suffered an 11 game losing streak when the soon to be 13 time All-Star sprained a knee back in 2022. And now KD suffered a similar injury to his other knee last week.
So how can Brooklyn (now 27-15, in second place) avoid what happened last season? That’s when some shade was cast:
Kyrie Irving on why Kevin Durant's absence could have a different impact this season compared to last year: "Well, I’m consistently in the lineup. That helps. We also don't have halfway in anybody in the locker room."— HoopsHype (@hoopshype) January 16, 2023
SHOTS FIRED? pic.twitter.com/p2xMKKZrSM
First Irving reminds us that he’s personally playing in every game now, both home and away. He wasn’t then. (For background, he’s made no secret he found it ridiculous that New York City had COVID vaccine mandate rules in place that the other cities didn’t have at the time).
Next, that’s when Harden catches the stray. Irving says “we also don’t have halfway in or halfway in anybody in the locker room.”
Nobody was unclear who he meant with that line, as Harden has been accused of “quitting” on the Nets, and even exaggerating his hamstring ailment in order to get the trade he desired. Following the trade a season ago, former Net Bruce Brown (now with Denver) also commented on how much chemistry he felt in the locker room following that huge trade.
Bruce Brown says something shifted in the Nets locker room post trade deadline. He can't put his finger on it exactly but there's a vibe and now everyone likes everybody. "We're just a little closer now."— DaveEarly (@DavidEarly) February 15, 2022
Said the team had a bonding experience down in Miami.
And it’s long since come out Harden was frustrated with the whole vaccination thing. But we could have guessed that ourselves too:
Do you talk to [Kyrie Irving] at all about 'hey, we need you'?— DaveEarly (@DavidEarly) January 8, 2022
"He knows that."
Do you talk to him at all about vaccination?
James Harden fielding questions about Kyrie Irving. pic.twitter.com/tFDov6kbh6
The Beard even once joked he’d give Kyrie the dang shot himself. “Yeah, I’m gonna give him the shot,” Harden said to a room full of laughing reporters.
Yet, Sixers fans can attest, Harden probably wasn’t exaggerating his injury or simply “dogging it” in Brooklyn. In hindsight we know his hamstring limited him for the rest of the 2022 season and playoffs. So that was very, very much a thing.
But you get the gist of Irving’s message and meaning. Mentally, Harden was checked out and that part is probably fair, even if it’s also some sort of ludicrous “pot meet kettle” jawn.
While we’re reminiscing, Harden was asked about the Fischer piece when it dropped a year ago, and denied its accuracy:
“If you didn’t hear it from me, like I don’t talk to nobody, I don’t have an agent, if ya’ll don’t hear from me, than it’s reports. I’m frustrated because I want to win, and I’m a competitor, it’s pretty simple.”— DaveEarly (@DavidEarly) January 26, 2022
-Harden on recent reports he has 'increased interest' in a trade pic.twitter.com/BrP2elTbTg
We know Harden certainly did have a wandering eye. And it’s difficult to blame him. At the time, Durant was out of the lineup, as noted, nursing the MCL sprain. And there was still no certainty that Kyrie would be a full-time player at any point that season.
Irving missed out on a max contract from the Nets because of it, so as far as we knew at the time, Kyrie could have played his last Brooklyn Nets home game all the way back in Spring of 2021.
Before this past Christmas, we got even more intel on this subject from Yaron Weitzman of FoxSports, in a rare exclusive with The Beard from mid December:
“First, there was the whole Kyrie Irving vaccination mess. Also, Harden and Durant, according to multiple Nets sources, butted heads during the season – Durant didn’t think Harden was in peak physical shape, and told him as much; Harden, meanwhile, struggled to adjust to an ecosystem where everything was no longer catered to him. According to a friend, Harden also became frustrated with the Nets training staff and its focus on maintenance, rest and recovery; after all, in Houston he’d run stadium stairs and lift – even after games sometimes – and he never got hurt....
At another point in he exclusive for Fox, per Weitzman:
“I just feel like,” Harden continued, “internally, things weren’t what I expected when I was trying to get traded there. I think everybody knows that. And I knew people were going to talk and say, ‘You quit’ and all that stuff, but then the following summer, the other superstar there [Durant] wanted to leave. So it’s like: Am I still the quitter?”
Having covered Kyrie, my read on this situation, is that he didn’t mean this in precisely the same way a more playful, or lucid trash talker like Kevin Durant might have meant it. Irving is a bit more vague, and in this case, I think matter of fact. I think he says these things without too much thought that he’s even taking a jab (pun!) and just lumps in his own absence with Harden’s lack of buy in. Just to him two facts, he’s long moved past.
For example, remember when Durant defended former Nets coach Steve Nash? KD rolled his eyes towards Kyrie when he said “guys in and out the lineup,” a hint of frustration and playfulness directed towards a friend and teammate who just wasn’t on the court enough. But Irving didn’t even seem to register Durant’s gaze or subtle communication:
Durant praises Steve Nash, and notice he tilts his head at the dude next to him when he says “guys in and out the lineup” and Kyrie starts nodding.— DaveEarly (@DavidEarly) April 9, 2022
So in this humber blogger’s opinion, I’m with ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, when he says things like frankly, Irving can be a “bit bizarre.” I even partly believe Kyrie when he says things like he has no hard feelings for not being kept in the loop on Harden wanting out:
"I wish him nothing but peace and love, we have a great friendship, but it didn't work out. Wish things could have been communicated better for all of us as men but hey, no hard feelings here with me."— DaveEarly (@DavidEarly) March 9, 2022
-Kyrie Irving's on how things ended with his James Harden #NetsWorld pic.twitter.com/BYpHjJOnLW
Nevertheless, Irving has upped the intensity for this continued Sixers Nets rivalry which was set ablaze by that trade. We haven’t even touched upon the Ben Simmons stuff here.
And it seems every few months or so, we get another little nugget of trash talk or intel about how it all shook out.