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Harden: ‘At full strength, nobody can beat us. I’m just going to leave it at that’

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2021 NBA Playoffs - Brooklyn Nets v Boston Celtics Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

James Harden is optimistic, very optimistic, about next season.

“At full strength, nobody can beat us. I’m just going to leave it at that,” he told Michael Shapiro of Sports Illustrated in an interview published Thursday that was filled with praise for his teammates, his head coach, his new hometown. But his big takeaway was about his team’s possibilities.

“There’s no chip at all, no chip for us. We’re just excited. We’re focused. We know what we have to do,” he said in response to a question about whether the Nets have a chip on their shoulder. “The biggest thing is us being healthy, which we will be. Honestly, we’re just excited to play a whole season together. That’s the exciting part.”

Harden spoke about his own priorities as well.

“Conditioning is going to be my main focus. I’m still trying to basically get healthy from my hamstring injury, which I was dealing with for a few months. So I want to make sure I’m completely healed and strong enough so I can go out there and completely be myself,” he added. “My rehab is going very, very well, and my getting my conditioning right is a big part of that.”

The 32-year-old guard has been working out in Houston with his personal trainer, Justin Allen. Still, despite all the problems he and his team experienced, Harden liked his first season in Brooklyn.

“It was pretty good, considering all the adversity we had to deal with, whether it’s me getting traded midseason, [Durant] missing damn near three months of the season, the COVID protocols, [Irving] missing a chunk of the season as well. And with all that said, we were a step away from the Eastern Conference finals. Now we’ll get a full year to regroup and get this thing going where we want it to.”

Most of his positive feelings had to do with his two superstar teammates.

“Well, he’s really good,” deadpanned Harden about KD. “But in all seriousness, he’s as humble as they come. He works his butt off, and he works to be the best version of himself night in and night out. And one thing about him is he just really, really loves the game of basketball. A lot of guys just play because they’re tall or whatever the case may be, but he loves it. He plays basketball whenever and wherever. You can’t teach that.”

Similarly, Harden spoke highly of Kyrie Irving’s on-court dominance ... and how it helps his game.

“He’s just one of the most skilled players I’ve ever seen.,” he said of Irving. “The things he can do with the basketball, the way he can score from anywhere on the court, playing with a guy like him makes my job a lot easier. I can just go out there and be a playmaker and score when they actually need me to score.”

And having a former player — a point guard and Hall of Famer — is a big plus for Harden.

“Ultimate players’ coach. He was a great point guard, and you really see that during situations in the game. There’s a real difference where with him he actually played the game and played it at an elite level, so he understands every game situation. Actually being in high-level moments so often over the years, that’s a big benefit for us.”

Harden also disclosed that New York was a big reason behind his trade demand.

“I want to build my business side and my brand side more than it already is, and what other place would you do that than Brooklyn?” he asked. “And as long as we win, as long as we handle our business on the court, our work off the court will reach the same level.”

Harden has yet to sign his extension but Sean Marks has said he expects that Harden and Irving will be “signed, sealed and delivered” by the opening of training camp on September 28.