James Harden says Kyrie Irving being unvaccinated played ‘very minimal’ role in desire to seek trade to 76ers

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James Harden was introduced as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday morning after he was traded from the Brooklyn Nets ahead of deadline day last Thursday, where the Nets landed a package built around Ben Simmons in return. In the midst of Harden speaking on how excited he is to work with Joel Embiid, be coached by Doc Rivers and proclaim emphatically that the Sixers would win a championship this season, he was asked about his exit from Brooklyn.

Specifically, Harden was asked how much of a role Kyrie Irving being unvaccinated played in his decision to request a trade from Brooklyn.

“Very minimal, honestly,” Harden said. “Me and Kyrie are very good friends, and whatever he’s going through, or still going through that’s his personal preference but it definitely did impact the team. Me, Kyrie and KD on the court winning covers up a lot of that stuff. But it was unfortunate that we played 16 games. But this in Philly is an opportunity that I’m looking forward to.”

So while Irving being unvaccinated and only being eligible for away games right now for the Nets didn’t play a major role in Harden’s decision, he didn’t completely shut down the idea. He also acknowledged how tough of a predicament Irving’s status has been for the Nets so far this season, which likely was felt a lot more in Harden’s last few weeks in Brooklyn. Once Durant went down with an MCL injury in mid-January, he left Harden carrying a significant amount of responsibility on offense in half of Brooklyn’s games as Irving is unable to play in the Nets’ home games due to the city’s vaccine mandate.

Harden also once joked about giving Irving the vaccine himself after the duo dominated the Chicago Bulls in a win right before Durant went down with his injury. But while Irving being unvaccinated wasn’t that big of a deal for Harden, there are clear ramifications for the Nets this season, especially right now with Durant out. Brooklyn just ended an 11-game losing streak and has fallen down the Eastern Conference standings to the No. 8 spot, which would mean they would have to compete in the play-in tournament to nab one of the last two spots for the postseason. That’s obviously not an ideal situation for a Nets team that was favored to win a championship heading into the season. And with just 25 games left and a timetable for Durant’s return still up in the air, the Nets will have to hope that having Irving part-time — and the soon debut of Simmons — will be enough to push this team up the standings before the playoffs start.

For Harden and Philadelphia, the roster shakeup should position them as a team that could make it to the Finals, and potentially win it if the partnership between Embiid and Harden flourishes like the Sixers are envisioning.

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