It’s hard to think of two franchises that have moved in more polar opposite directions this season than the Nets and the Houston Rockets, whom the Nets hosted Wednesday night.
The Rockets had both Russell Westbrook and James Harden on their team last November, meaning they had a chance of contending for a title. Fast forward a little more than four months and Westbrook is off doing his triple-double thing in Washington and Harden has proven himself to been a key piece in the formation of the league’s shiniest new super team.
You can bet when Harden walked out onto the Barclays Center court Wednesday night, he was thrilled not to be a member of this visiting team.
The Rockets entered Wednesday night’s game with the second-worst record (13-33) in the Western Conference after recently having ended a stretch where they lost 20 straight games. Victor Oladipo, the only big-name player the Rockets got in return for Harden, lasted only two months after the team decided he wasn’t a good fit.
Still, Rockets general manager Rafael Stone said he doesn’t regret having traded Harden. "I would for sure, 100 percent, do that deal again," Stone told ESPN. He then added: "Literally no part of me regrets doing that deal."
You can bet no part of the Nets or Harden regrets the deal either. Harden may have been out of shape and unhappy in Houston, but you could argue that Harden has been the best player in the league since he got to Brooklyn.
"I feel like I’m the MVP," Harden said after recording 44 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists in Friday’s win over the Pistons.
While some might hold the inelegant way Harden forced his way out of Houston against him, it’s hard to blame him for not wanting to be part of a rebuilding team. And the Nets are anything but rebuilding. Not only do they have the Big Three in Harden, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. But the Nets have continued to add pieces, cycling through some short-term players before landing Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge.
"You know it’s not like we did anything illegal," Nets coach Steve Nash said when asked about the fact that some fans around the league are criticizing them for stockpiling talent. "So, I don’t know what we’re supposed to do, not add to our roster and just sit pat. The idea of this league is to try to put together the best team you can put together. That doesn’t guarantee you anything."
The Nets entered Wednesday’s game with a chance to take sole possession of first place in the Eastern Conference for the first time this season. Harden’s superstar teammates believe he has played an instrumental role of getting them there.
"He has done a great job for us all season for us, being consistent and just kind of leading the team," Irving said. "Whether I’m out of the lineup or (Durant) is out of the lineup, you know different guys are playing with him and he’s been able to adjust and adapt quickly. And when you throw some great pieces around a great player that is able to play point guard out there and just be who he is, it’s our job to be responsible for our roles, play at a high level, complement him and vice versa."
Notes & quotes: Landry Shamet (sprained right ankle) missed his fifth straight game. With this being the first of a back-to-back set, it’s likely that he will also miss Thursday’s game against Charlotte.