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James Harden’s leadership is crucial for Nets ... so is his health

Since his first practice with the Nets last January, James Harden has been team leader. It’s a job he wants and relishes. He’ll question everyone from player to coach to GM on everything ... and be accountable when things go wrong.

He described that leadership style talking to the media Friday at the Nets training camp in San Diego.

“I’m not that loud, but … I’m more loud than anybody on this team, like Paul [Millsap], LaMarcus [Aldridge], Patty [Mills], [Kevin Durant], you’ve got a lot of guys who are just to themselves,” Harden told the media Friday. “So it’s my job to open them up a little bit more.”

That role is divided into on- and off-court activities and Harden said he’s prepared to handle both.

“I’ll try to get guys together for dinners and hangouts more often, just so we can get to know each other outside of the court,” Harden said. “We’ve got a fairly quiet group. Most of the guys are to themselves; they stay in their own little shells. It’ll be nice to get them out, open up a little bit, even myself.

Of course, he has to be on the court to get a lot of that and other things done. He played only 36 games with the Nets, 44 all together, plagued mostly by a hamstring issue that no one, even him, believes was unrelated to his poor conditioning.

“Yeah, and I’ve been doing individual workouts and conditioning and things like that. But five-on-five competition is totally different than working out individually,” Harden said. “So the more we can get five-on-five games and build our conditioning up. And not just myself, our entire team. … I feel like we’re behind a little in [that] sense.”

On Media Day, Harden pronounced himself “100 percent” recovered and told ESPN’s Malika Andrews he’s “healthier and stronger” and “probably felt better than I ever have before.” But as his head coach added Friday, now that he’s recovered, he’s got to get in better shape. Two different training regimens.

“He’s healthy, but he’s trying to get himself in shape and elevate that,” Steve Nash said. “He hasn’t really played since the Boston series, and before that, he hadn’t played for a long time either. So he hasn’t played a lot of basketball, period, since the [2020] bubble. It’s been stop-start for him. He still wants to get his legs under him, and then can feel a few new levels for him to go.”

Will he play Sunday afternoon vs. the Lakers at Staples Center? No word yet, but Nash noted that his point guard essentially hasn’t played since the first round series against the Celtics.