NEW YORK — A year and a day after being traded from Brooklyn to Philadelphia, James Harden faced the Nets at Barclays Center for the first time.
Neither Kyrie Irving nor Kevin Durant took part in the Sixers’ 101-98 win over Brooklyn on Saturday night. And, as Harden tells it, he anticipated that dissolution of the Nets.
“I didn’t just ask to leave for no reason,” he said. “I was in a really good place in Houston. Obviously, we didn’t have a chance to win the championship, but I was comfortable. So for me to up and leave my family and all the things that I created there to (go to) Brooklyn for, what, a year and a half? To just up and leave? It was for a real reason, but I’m happy for the organization in what they got back. They got some really good pieces.”
The Sixers saw the Nets' new pieces Saturday. They include Villanova product Mikal Bridges, who scored 23 points in his Brooklyn debut. Still, two years ago Nets fans would’ve scoffed at the notion of Harden being a Sixer, Durant a Sun, and Irving a Mav. Counting the playoffs, the three shared the floor for just 16 games.
Harden was asked to sum up the trio’s time together.
“Frustrating,” he said. “There’s a lot of what-ifs. I think we only played less than 20 games together, so it was a little bit frustrating, but it is what it is. Hopefully, everybody’s in a good place now and we can move on.”
Harden opted against specifying exactly what went wrong in Brooklyn — there’s plenty one could identify, to be fair — but he clearly wanted to convey that he had not abandoned ship without sound logic.
“There were a lot of things,” he said. “A lot of dysfunction, clearly. There were a lot of internal things I’m not going to just put in the media or anything, and that was one of the reasons why I chose to make my decisions.
“Now, fast forward to today, I don’t look like the crazy one. I don’t look like the quitter or whatever the media wants to call me. I knew what was going on and I just decided 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. Fast forward to today, they got a whole new roster.”
Pressed on Irving’s unpredictability in particular, Harden instead chose to zoom out.
“That’s not something I’m going to answer,” he 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 here and play with KD and Kyrie.
“With that being said, that didn’t happen as much as I would have liked it to or how much the organization would have wanted it to. … For me, I just had to make an individual decision for the betterment of my family and my career and what I wanted, and that’s what happened.”
Only one of the players sent from Philadelphia to Brooklyn in the Harden deal played Friday for the Nets. Ben Simmons had four points, three assists and three rebounds in 16 minutes off the bench. Seth Curry has been sidelined with a left adductor injury. Andre Drummond signed with the Bulls this past summer.
Sixers head coach Doc Rivers shared his perspective on Simmons, who’s played 40 games and averaged 7.2 points, 6.4 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 1.4 steals. He's made just 25 of 57 free throws (43.9 percent).
“I always have an affection for the guys I coached,” Rivers said. “It never goes away. … And I believe he can get back to where he was with us, especially now, I think, because he’ll have the ball in his hands more. I thought that’s what we did that really kind of freed him up.
“But it’s just going to take time now. It’s been, what, a year and a half? I don’t think it’ll be overnight, but he’s working, and that’s all he can do. So yeah, I hope the best.”
Ultimately, the Sixers are now 36-19, the Nets are 33-23, Irving and Durant are elsewhere, and everyone will move forward.
“It was a lot,” Harden said. “I enjoyed my time. Obviously, playing with KD and Kyrie for those games … there’s a lot of possibilities of what could happen, but it’s a part of life. I’m sure everybody’s in a better place, a good place, and here we are.”