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James Harden confident as Nets enter championship run with ‘Big Three’

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James Harden, finally and officially a Brooklyn Net, met the New York media Friday, decked out in a Jean-Michel Basquiat-inspired hoodie and full of confidence.

“An elite player, elite teammate, and an elite leader,” Harden when asked about who he is, what he can do. “A guy that willing to do whatever it takes to rack up as many wins as we can and sacrifice.”

Harden also said he’s confident the Nets can put it together and win it all but there’s a lot that needs to get done.

“It’s not a guarantee me coming to Brooklyn is guaranteeing a title,” Harden said. “But I think giving myself a chance is very, very important. [When I was] younger . . . wanting to get paid and wanting to take care of my family was very, very important to me. Now, at this stage of my career, it’s giving myself a chance to do something that I haven’t yet accomplished in this league.

“That’s why I’m here in Brooklyn. It’s not going to be easy at all, but with this roster, this coaching staff and this organization, I think we have a legit chance.”

When it comes to the sacrifice among the league’s newest “Big Three” in Harden, Kevin Durant, and Kyrie Irving, Harden said it views the Nets quest as game-by-game.

“Chemistry, sacrifice, and we are all elite,” Harden said about the Nets “Big Three.” “Depending on the game and what is going on throughout the course of the game, that is going to determine who gets the ball and who makes the plays. We are all unselfish, willing passers, and we play basketball the right way. That is all that matters.”

Harden, who has led the NBA in scoring the past three seasons, said his playmaking ability is the area of his game that will blossom in a Nets uniform.

“For me, my playmaking ability,” Harden said. “We have two elite scorers. My job is to come out here and obviously score the basketball when needed but my playmaking ability where it is getting our shooters shots, getting our bigs finishes around the rim and making the entire team better.

“I think that is one aspect of my game that will excel in this offense and as long as I am making my teammates better, it does not matter about the points. I think everybody knows that I can score the ball at a high clip and that is where the sacrifice comes in at.”

Diving deeper, Harden broke down the role of facilitating. As to which “Big Three” player will have the ball in their hands, Harden says it will come down to the flow of the game.

“When it comes to facilitating, it depends on the flow of the game. Some nights, I’ll be a facilitator. Some nights, I might get it going and score the ball at a high clip. That is the beauty of being versatile and being able to do more than one thing. Same with Kevin and same with Kyrie. Every night is going to be different.”

Also, there’s a rookie head coach in Steve Nash running the show. Harden elaborated on his conversation with Nash about his offensive plan for him - emphasizing his playmaking.

“Just having conversations with him today, it was exciting. He has that point guard mentality. One of the best to ever do it so just going over the offense and him explaining the offense in positions he sees me in and where he can use my playmaking ability was exciting.”

As Harden gets accustomed to Nash, a Harden mentor, a former head coach who expanded Harden’s offensive skillset in Houston, Mike D’Antoni, will be sitting comfortably a seat away from Nash. The 31-year-old explained how D’Antoni being in Brooklyn makes him comfortable and was one of the four major parts of his decision to seek the Nets in a trade.

“It was a part of it,” Harden said on D’Antoni being in Brooklyn. “Mike is an unbelievable coach and has been doing it for a very long time. Mike is a factor and being comfortable with him, with Kevin, knowing Kyrie, and just those four pieces right there made it easy. Them being in Brooklyn, it was a no-brainer.”

There is no secret the 31-year-old superstar has been heavily criticized for his play defensively. When asked about his defense, Harden immediately noted that he is “as motivated as they come” and does not pay attention to the outside noise.

“I am already motivated,” Harden said. “I am as motivated as they come. I really don’t pay attention to the defense and the conditioning because everyone is sort of the same as far as training camp and all that. I know I am one of the best basketball players that we have in this league. My job is to focus on what I am supposed to be doing in this league every single night.”

As for his conditioning level, Harden left it short when NetsDaily asked him- “Great.” he said, smiling and offering the shortest laugh.

With Harden in Brooklyn, the Nets are now the only team in the league to boast a bonafide no-doubt-about-it Big 3. That’s something none of the Los Angeles Lakers, the LA Clippers, and others can say. Harden laid out how the Nets offense may work––fluidly and full of improvisation––on Friday.

“I think we are really good at creating, creating good shots for ourselves, and creating good shots for our teammates,” Harden said in relation to playing alongside Irving. “It is all a flow. You can’t predict how it is going to go. Kyrie might score ten possessions in a row. KD might score ten possessions in a row. They are more than capable of that and I am fine with that because we are going to be winning and be good. Tomorrow, we will see and it is going to be fun and I am excited about it.”

And while Harden didn’t explicitly say he has spoken to both of his co-stars about making things work as a unit, he said he’s feeling pretty bullish about the group on paper.

“We haven’t,” Harden said about having conversations with Irving about co-existing in the Nets backcourt. “For us, it may take a little bit of time or it may not. I think all of us are smart. We are very unselfish and know what is at stake. It is a matter of coaches putting us in the position, us communicating and us putting ourselves in spots on the floor we can be effective and help each other out.

“Each game is going to be different but as time goes on - since we aren’t really practicing, as we get a feel for it over the course of games, that it should be a lot easier because all of us are unselfish and everyone wants to see the next man succeed.

Harden continued. “Not only just us three but we want to see our entire team succeed and play to the best of their ability.”

As for him specifically, is he willing to do what it takes to succeed? Can he play unselfishly after boasting a sky-high usage rate and astronomical isolation statistics for years in Houston?

“Of course.” he retorted with the same kind of aplomb that was evident throughout the Zoom call ... which at one point had 100 reporters online.

With such a talented group, both in terms of players and the coaching staff, it’s no secret that the bright lights have been turned up a couple of degrees hotter with a third-star in the fold. Harden didn’t shy away from the limelight; rather, he basked in, enjoyed it, and sprouted confidence like the first flower in springtime.

“In this stage of my career, giving myself a chance to do something that I haven’t accomplished yet in this league,” explained Harden. “That is very important to me now and that is the situation I am in. That is why I am here in Brooklyn. I am excited for the opportunity. Obviously, we know it is not easy and it is not going to be easy at all but with this roster, the coaching staff, and this organization, I think we have a legit chance.”

Harden elaborated on Brooklyn’s “legit chance” to bring a Larry O’B to Brooklyn...

“Obviously you got Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving on the team,” Harden said about championship expectations. “Surrounded by those guys are really good pieces in DeAndre [Jordan], Jeff [Green], shooters in Joe [Harris] and Landry [Shamet]. You just look at this entire roster and it’s built for any style of basketball you want. The coaching staff that knows about the game of basketball at a high level. You just add that all together and that is a legit chance right there. It was a no-brainer for me.”

A no-brainer. The Brooklyn Nets. A few years ago, that statement would’ve be blasphemous to the umpteenth degree. Now? Pshh, that’s fish food.

As for the trade itself, Harden explained that he had a bit of an “re-evaluation” period after the loss in the “bubble” against the Los Angeles Lakers. Specifically, the exits of Daryl Morey and Mike D’Antoni triggered his interest into looking elsewhere for greener pastures.

“As far as with Houston, after the bubble and that loss, I wanted to reevaluate my career, the team, and the direction the organization was going,” Harden said. “You look from top to bottom from the general manager leaving to Mike D’Antoni leaving to reevaluating our personnel to see if we had enough to compete with the best teams in this league.

“As time went on with free agency and everything like that, I felt like we didn’t have a chance. As much as I love the city of Houston and loved being there, at the point in my career, it’s not about money, it’s not about anything else but having a chance to reach the ultimate goal of winning at the highest level. That is where that came into play. It did not go as smooth as I would have loved it to go but I think both sides are happy.”

And guess who was atop his list? The “no-brainer” Nets. That’s who.

“They were on the top of my list,” Harden said. “There were a few other teams involved as well and it could have got crazy. Credit to the Houston Rockets who were an unbelievable organization and worked with me. As bad as it looked from the outside, internally, they worked with me and they made sure I ended up here. Much credit to them and I am very appreciative of them.”

You heard it from James himself. In a trade market of competitors that included the Boston Celtics, the Philadelphia 76ers, the Portland Trail Blazers, the Milwaukee Bucks, the Denver Nuggets... the list goes on and on, James Harden chose the Brooklyn Nets as his next home. The same Nets that, just five short years ago to the day, started Wayne Ellington and Donald Sloan as the backcourt in a loss against the Trail Blazers.

It’s funny how time flies.