Kevin Durant, James Harden playoff bow-outs reshape view of Nets’ failed ‘Big 3’ era

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) smiles while walking down court with James Harden (1) during the second half of Game 5 in the NBA basketball Eastern Conference semifinals playoff series against the Boston Celtics, Tuesday, May 9, 2023, in Boston.
AP Photo/Charles Krupa

There’s no denying that the 2022-23 Nets season was as wild as they come with ups and downs that would rival any half-decent telenovela. But after James Harden and Kevin Durant had quiet postseasons and Kyrie Irving’s Dallas Mavericks didn’t even make the playoffs, do the Nets get some vindication from all the negative headlines that followed the end of the superstar era in Brooklyn?

Now it should be stated in no uncertain terms that it was not the Nets front office that decided to make the seismic changes at the deadline that took the franchise in an entirely different direction. Sean Marks and Joe Tsai were forced to change course when their two superstars decided that they had enough.

Still, it’s hard not to look at where things stand now and, if you’re a Nets fan, feel comfortable that things may have worked out. For all the talk from Philadelphia about the 76ers winning the James Harden trade, it’s hard to say that anyone really won that deal. 

Harden played an incredible regular season — developing into more of a facilitator in Philly — and had some big games in the postseason. But he also was barely a blip on the radar during a number of games against the Boston Celtics and was drawing comparisons to Ben Simmons’ infamous 2021 conference semifinals performance against the Atlanta Hawks. 

Add to that the fact that the Sixers let go of head coach Doc Rivers on Tuesday, there are serious questions about Joel Embiid’s future in the City of Brotherly Love and Harden may be headed elsewhere. 

There’s even speculation about a reunion between Harden and Durant in Phoenix, who recently let go of their head coach. Durant and his time in the southwest didn’t go as planned either with his Suns getting knocked off by the Dever Nuggets. 

Durant dealt with injuries in Phoenix which limited him to just eight regular season games following the deadline deal and he was average in their series with the Nuggets. And a tenuous situation in Dallas only got worse after Irving arrived in the Lone Star State. 

How much of that can really be blamed on Irving, who averaged 27 points and shot 51% from the field in Dallas, is up for debate. Still, it was far from the results that were expected. 

The Nets front office deserved the criticism they received for allowing things to spiral the way they did and failing to take advantage of having three of the game’s best players on one roster. However, there is something to be said about where the Nets organization finds itself now.

Brooklyn has an effective leader in head coach Jacque Vaughn and talented pieces in Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson and Nic Claxton. General manager Sean Marks still has a ways to go to get the team back to a championship contender, but perhaps the fallout wasn’t as bad as everyone thought it would be back in February. 

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