In wake of their league-high eighth straight losses ... plus plenty of “noise from the outside,” there are mixed levels of “concern” emanating from the Nets locker room and front office. An All-Star break reset couldn’t come sooner but that’s 10 days and six games away. Brooklyn will have deal with all their issues in the interim including Thursday’s trade deadline.
For the first time since reports surfaced that the Nets are open to dealing James Harden to Philadelphia for Ben Simmons, a Nets official went on record in an attempt to shut down that rumor (at least for now). When Steve Nash was asked whether the team plans to keep the superstar guard past Thursday’s NBA Trade Deadline, he answered, “Yes. That is correct.”
The Nets head coach, who commonly redirects trade/contract-based questions to General Manager Sean Marks, went on to say he has had multiple conversations with Harden dating back to the summer about his commitment level with the organization. The message in those conversations hasn’t changed. Harden wants to be a Net long-term.
“I don’t think anything’s changed other than noise from the outside,” said Nash before the Nets’ 124-104 defeat to the Nuggets Sunday afternoon. “James wants to be here. We’re building with James, and we think we have the best chance to win with James. I don’t think anything’s changed on the inside of our locker room, in our communication; it’s just all the noise coming from the outside.”
While all the “noise” revolving around Harden’s future can be a distraction to the NBA’s slumpiest team who are trying to register a win —against any team — and conclude the bumpiest time the franchise has seen in over two years, Kyrie Irving was asked about the Harden’s situation. The part-time guard wasn’t as abundantly clear as his head coach.
“I think James could speak better to that than I can. I mean, we’ve had conversations, but like I said I’m just getting back into the swing of things,” Irving said. “How all those kinda media planta start going around with rumors and stuff like that, I really did not concern myself with that.
“So you know, the few (!) conversations that we’ve had, he’s been really committed and we just hold on to his word. But obviously, when we’re going out to play games, we can’t even really think about it. So we would love to have him in the lineup, but we want him at his optimal healthy version of himself. And then we let the rest take care of it. But who knows? Who knows what’s gonna happen.”
Beyond Harden, there is a mixed level of concern about where the team stands with 29 games left before the post-season rolls around. The Nets, who were on top of the Eastern Conference standings just two weeks ago, have dramatically fallen into the play-in bracket (7th seed) with a winless five-game west coast swing in the record books. Brooklyn is now 2-9 without Kevin Durant.
“There’s a good chance we’re in the play-in after the All-Star break. We’re not going to panic,” Nash admitted. “There’s still plenty of games after the All-Star break when Kevin [Durant] gets back. Hopefully have Kevin and James [Harden] at home and James, Kevin and Kyrie [Irving] on the road, and hopefully, LaMarcus [Aldridge] comes back and Nic’s [Claxton] available. You go down the line. At some point, it’d be great to have Joe [Harris] back.
“You’re talking about five guys. That’s your starting lineup that’s out potentially. It is what it is. These guys just have to show the resolve. That’s the opportunity here; win, lose, or draw to show the resolve, keep pushing to stay together.”
When asked about the level of concern, Irving kept it short. The goal is to get healthy and see what roster moves could be made if the Nets get active before the 3:00 p.m. ET trade deadline hits.
“First things first is getting healthy,” Irving said. “And then setting out team up for the rest of the season post this trade deadline.”
On the other hand, the eighth-straight loss hit Blake Griffin differently. The veteran big was honest, believing the level of concern is “very high.” There’s no secret Brooklyn’s injury-riddled roster — Harden (left hamstring tightness), Nic Claxton (left hamstring tightness), Durant (left knee MCL sprain), LaMarcus Aldridge (left ankle sprain) and Joe Harris (left ankle) — but Griffin doesn’t see that as an excuse for Brooklyn’s continuous poor play.
“Every team needs health. Every team needs their best players. It’s not a secret. Not having KD, not having James, not having LaMarcus, not having Joe, I mean you have four starters out. That’s obviously a problem. But that’s not an excuse,” Griffin said. “Nobody still likes losing eight straight. Just got to keep fighting.”
Of course, the return of talent will get the ship back on smoother waters, and the Nets know that. Aside from the five key players returning at different times, the Nets head coach doesn’t want to diminish what his current group of healthy bodies is accomplishing in the storm.
“It’s a tricky question because you don’t want to diminish what our guys are trying to do. You’re talking about some pretty great players that are out of the lineup, and this roster is built on talent. Rosters are built on talent, so getting some talent back will definitely help,” Nash said. “Adding some reinforcements, everyone can go back to their more natural roles and it’s an incremental leap I think in our ability to execute.”
Of course, by 3:01 p.m. ET Thursday, the Nets could be a different team, with a different “Big Three.” In the meantime, they play the Celtics Tuesday night before traveling to the nation’s capital to play the Wizards on Thursday ... after the trade deadline.