Formidable

When James Harden was traded to the Nets in the middle of January, not a few quarters wondered how his arrival would affect chemistry. At the time, the black and white were treading dangerous waters, winning on the strength of a dominant offense while being pulled down by decidedly porous defense. And with wet-behind-the-ears bench tactician Steve Nash tasked to sort through the puzzle, speculation delved on how potential could be turned into practice. Meanwhile, their new acquisition had hitherto been conditioned to propel a system focused entirely on him. How would he be able to share the ball with two other All-Stars?

As things turned out, all the concern was for naught. Harden would not just share the ball well; he would share the ball splendidly. Evidently, his skill set — unquestionably elite — could be adapted to take full advantage of the available talent around him. Which he did as the Nets’ de facto point guard, an arrangement further fortified following the buy-in of the mercurial Kyrie Irving; triple-doubles came with ease, and wind accompanied the sterling numbers. They’ve gone 24 and nine since his arrival, and their 31-15 slate would most definitely have been better had they not suffered from significant loss of man-hours due to injury along the way.

In support of the aforesaid point, it bears noting that Kevin Durant, their best player by far, has been out due to a hamstring strain, with no definite date set for his return. He has played only one game in the last one and a half months, and yet the Nets keep pulling off victory after victory. Little wonder, then, that fans feel justified to cast moist eyes on the Larry O’Brien Trophy. And it certainly helps that the buyout market has likewise netted Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge, diminished frontliners but still capable of producing in limited minutes.

Bottom line, the Nets are formidable. Nash says they will be cautious with Durant, which could mean he won’t be burning rubber anytime soon. Then again, the real test is in the playoffs, and there’s every reason to believe they’ll have a complete roster by then. And if they don’t, well, there’s Harden to prop them up. As he boldly declared in the face of his string of outstanding performances, “I feel like I am the [Most Valuable Player]. It’s just that simple.” It’s not, actually, and his scorched-earth exit from the Rockets precludes him from winning the award. Still, his message is appreciated for what it stands: a scary declaration other contenders would do well to accept as fact.

 

Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.