NEW YORK -- James Harden acknowledged Saturday that his brief tenure with the Brooklyn Nets was "frustrating" and that he "left for a reason," after playing for the first time in Barclays Center since he pushed for a trade to the Philadelphia 76ers just prior to the February 2022 trade deadline.
After a week in which the Nets traded both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, Harden didn't seem surprised that the organization was forced to press the button on another rebuild while noting that he no longer looks like "the crazy one" for leaving.
When asked whether he could have imagined a scenario in which both Durant and Irving were gone by the time he played his first game against the Nets, Harden responded: "Yeah."
"I didn't just ask to leave for no reason," Harden said after the Sixers' 101-98 win over the Nets. "I was in a really good place in Houston. Obviously, we didn't have a chance to win a championship, but I was comfortable. So for me to up and leave my family, all the things I created there, to come to Brooklyn for a year and a half to try to just get up and leave, it was for a reason, you know what I mean? But I'm happy for the organization and what they've got back. They got some really good pieces."
The 33-year-old former All-Star sounded like a man who wanted to get some things off his chest in the wake of the separate deals that sent Durant and Irving away and reshaped his former team. Harden said there were things he believed the Nets could have done to keep him but did not elaborate.
"Yeah, there was," he said. "Like, a lot of things. But it was just a lot of dysfunction. Clearly. But it was a lot of internal things that I'm not going to ever just say, put in the media or anything. And that was one of the reasons why I chose to make my decision.
"But now, fast-forward to date, I don't look like the crazy one. I don't look like the guy or the quitter or whatever the media want to call me. I knew what was going on and I just decided to ... hey, I'm not built for this. I don't want to deal with that. I want to play basketball and have fun and enjoy doing it. And fast-forward to today, they've got a whole new roster."
Harden was originally acquired by the Nets from the Houston Rockets in a January 2021 deal that many across the league believed would give the Nets the kind of big three that would eventually lead to a championship. When Harden pushed for another trade to the Sixers a little over a year later, there was strong criticism from inside and out of the league for the quick exit. Harden said he pushed for the move because he knew things were already moving in a bad direction for the Nets.
"It was wrong," Harden said. "It definitely ... it was wrong. It wasn't right."
Harden said he had a feeling that all three stars would eventually move on. The trio ended up playing only 16 games together before Harden was traded to the Sixers for a package that included Ben Simmons, Seth Curry and several draft picks.
"It wasn't right," Harden said. "So something good wasn't coming out of this."
One reason the Nets' roster was always in a state of flux was the uncertainty surrounding Irving's availability. Irving missed several weeks during the 2020-21 for personal reasons and then played in just 29 games during the 2021-22 season because he chose not to get the COVID-19 vaccination and was unable to play in home games due to a New York City mandate that was eventually rolled back in late March 2022.
Harden, who acknowledged in the immediate aftermath of his trade to the Sixers that the uncertainty surrounding Irving's vaccination status played a role in his decision to ask for a trade, was asked specifically how much he felt Irving's inability to be counted on impacted the entire Nets organization.
"That's not something that I'm going to answer," Harden said. "But the reason I made that decision to get out of my comfort zone which was leave Houston and do everything that I did to get out of there was to come in and play with KD and Kyrie.
"And with that being said, that didn't happen as much as I would like to or probably the organization wanted to. It was just something where I knew it wasn't going to change. So, for me, I just had to make an individual decision for the betterment of my family and my career and what I wanted. And that's what happened."
Harden was then asked if there was a commitment issue that he believed was lacking from Durant and Irving, especially since both players had already won a title and Harden is still looking for his first one.
"It was a lot," Harden said. "But I enjoyed my time obviously playing with KD and Kyrie for those games. There's a lot of possibilities of what could've happened. But it's part of life. Move on, and I'm sure having everybody's in a better place, a good place. And here we are."
As Durant starts fresh with the Phoenix Suns and Irving tries to create a new path with Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks, Harden was blunt in his assessment when asked how to sum up his time with the Nets.
"Frustrating," he said. "It's a lot of what-ifs, I think when you play less than 20 games together. So it's a little bit frustrating, but it is what it is. Hopefully, everybody's in a good place now and we can move on."