Philadelphia 76ers' James Harden, left, poses with head coach Doc...

Philadelphia 76ers' James Harden, left, poses with head coach Doc Rivers after taking questions from the media at a press conference at the NBA basketball team's facility, Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2022, in Camden, N.J. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola) Credit: AP/Chris Szagola

In some respects, the honeymoon between James Harden and the Nets was over before it ever began.

It wasn’t that Harden wasn’t excited to play with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant — he believed the trio had what it took to craft a championship team — it’s just that the Nets were never his first choice when he demanded a trade from the Rockets last year, he said Tuesday in his introductory news conference with the 76ers.

Once he was in Brooklyn, though, it became even more complicated: big injuries, this season and last, and the constant hurdle that is Irving’s vaccination status meant the Big 3 played only 16 games together in the parts of the two seasons they were all on the same team. Tuesday, Harden didn’t expound too much on his time in Brooklyn, but he implied plenty.

"I needed to be around guys that I know want to win and are willing to do whatever it takes to win," he said, days after he helped orchestrate the blockbuster trade that sent him and Paul Millsap to Philadelphia for Ben Simmons, Andre Drummond and Seth Curry. "The structure here is unbelievable."

It was something he coveted from his Houston days, he said, and when he originally asked to get traded then, he had Philadelphia as his goal destination — a place where he could play alongside Joel Embiid and under Doc Rivers.

He added that though his demands for a trade from both Houston and Brooklyn appeared one-sided, it was actually mutual: "But everything [was put] on me."

"When I was going through everything I was going through in Houston, Philly was my first choice," he said. "It just didn’t happen . . . I don’t really want to get into the Brooklyn situation. I just knew for a very long time that this was a perfect fit."

And though Harden certainly has a lot of pull as one of the best players in the league, it wasn’t enough to fully determine his future back then. "I had to go to Brooklyn which, obviously, we all know that could have been something special but whatever [the] reason was . . . " He stopped mid-sentence. "So here I am today."

Harden added that Irving’s decision to not get vaccinated — meaning he missed the first portion of the first half and, even now, can only play in away games and not in Toronto — had "very minimal" bearing on his choice. There was no denying, though, that it changed the entire tenor of the Nets season.

"Obviously, me and Kyrie are friends," he said. "Whatever he was going through or still going through, that’s his personal preference, but it definitely did impact the team because originally, obviously, me, Kyrie and KD on the court and winning covers up a lot of that stuff but it was unfortunate that we played 16 games out of whatever it was, and it is what it is. But here in Philly is an opportunity that I’m looking forward to."

Harden reiterated that he was excited to learn more under Rivers, adding he believed he and Embiid could lead the 76ers to a championship as early as this postseason. In a show of commitment, he doubled down on his plan to opt into his $47.3 million contract next year; he also has the option to sign a four-year, $223 million extension — something that would be big news for a player on his third team in 14 months.

And though Harden is nursing a left hamstring tightness and won’t be back until after the All-Star Game, he indicated that this was more a precaution than anything.

"I’m happy," he said. "The last year has been a lot of ups and downs, a lot of stress, but whatever. That’s in the past. I’m excited. I’m healthy, and it’s an opportunity of a lifetime."

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