When James Harden joined the Nets in a mid-January trade last season to form a "Big 3" with fellow superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, he coined the wonderfully colorful term "scary hours" to describe the possibilities.
As it turned out, the Nets suffered a plethora of injuries that limited that trio to only 13 regular season and playoff games together (10-3) before they were eliminated in a second-round playoff loss to the eventual NBA champion Bucks. But now that they have a full training camp together this week in San Diego, have signed key veterans Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge and added free agents Patty Mills and Paul Millsap, Harden is even more optimistic.
Asked during media day Monday if he expects to fulfill his "scary hours" prophecy, Harden lit up. "For sure, it’s even scarier," Harden said. "It’s even scarier just because of some of the pieces we’ve added to this team. You’ve got guys that are battle-tested that you can trust that you can go to war with.
"Not saying we didn’t have that last year, but it’s even more confidence now that you’ve got to instill those principles and have that mindset in training camp and build on that. We need to use this preseason like regular-season games . . . because we are behind."
Reviewing last season, Harden noted Aldridge played only five games before retiring to address a heart condition that has been resolved. Durant played only 35 regular-season games, Irving played 54 and suffered an ankle injury that cost him the final three playoff games, and Harden had a hamstring injury that cost him 21 of the last 24 regular-season games. He was reinjured in Game 1 against the Bucks but returned at half-speed the final three games.
"It was actually pretty crazy," Harden said of the injuries. "There was so much going on. I mean, we were a foot away from going to the Eastern Conference finals. We showed glimpses last year without being healthy and full. This year is going to be a different story."
Harden’s "foot away" reference was to the shot Durant hit against Milwaukee to send Game 7 to overtime that was ruled a two-pointer because he had a toe on the three-point line. That was a bad break, but after a full offseason to rehab his hamstring, Harden is brimming with confidence.
"I’m back 100%, which I feel great about that," Harden said. "Usually, I’m very, very durable. Last year was kind of tricky, kind of weird. But having a full, great offseason, preparing my body . . . I feel totally different."
Harden declined to discuss Irving’s COVID vaccination status and how it might impact the Nets' title hopes if he misses games in New York because of the city vaccine mandate. But he said the Nets "are more than capable" of winning a title.
"I think everybody’s on the same page in the sense of we want to win a championship," Harden said. "That’s why LaMarcus is here. That’s why Paul is here. Sean [general manager Marks] did an unbelievable job of building the roster to compete at the highest level . . . It’s going to be a great year, great journey."