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When the Brooklyn Nets decided to trade for James Harden to form a juggernaut in the East, and heighten its chances to win a championship this season, there was one elephant-sized question that floated around: did the Nets make this trade because of Kyrie Irving pulling a disappearing act? Irving hasn't been with the Nets for the past five games, and is expected to be out for at least the remainder of the week due to personal reasons. 

On top of that, the NBA is looking into a video that circulated online earlier this week that showed Irving at what appeared to be a family birthday party at a public venue with a group of people without wearing a mask. If the league determines that Irving violated the health and safety protocols, his return will be kicked even further down the line as he'll likely be required to quarantine. Despite all this, Nets general manager Sean Marks said Thursday morning while addressing the media about their recent blockbuster trade that the decision to swipe Harden away from Houston wasn't directly related to Irving's absence

"They are completely separate from one another," Marks said. "Kyrie's absence and the personal issues he's dealing with has nothing to do with us going after and attaining James Harden. Regarding Kyrie and when he'll be back and rejoining the team, part of that is going to be up to the NBA. And we're waiting for them to come out with their ruling on the health and safety protocols. I have talked to Kyrie, so I know he's excited about getting back on the court with his teammates as soon as possible."

Marks might be trying to minimize the situation with Irving, or he could be telling the truth, but the fact of the matter is, with or without Irving, Brooklyn is still a championship-contending team. Irving surely puts the Nets over the top, as the trio of him, Harden and Kevin Durant would give opposing teams headaches every night trying to contain all three of them. However, without Irving, Brooklyn is still a good team.

What is a positive sign here, though, is that Marks said he's talked to Irving since the trade, and the guard is "excited" to return to the team "as soon as possible." Not only that, but Irving and Durant were consulted before the trade was made, and the two stars spoke with conviction that this trio of All-Stars -- two of which are former league MVPs -- could work.

Brooklyn will need a lot more than "making it work" happen, though, as the Nets have sunk a lot of capital into this Big Three, after trading away a treasure trove of draft selections and a group of young players in Caris LeVert, Taurean Prince, Jarrett Allen and Rodions Kurucs in the deal. While no one within Brooklyn's organization may want to say it, this is a championship or bust team. The window for capturing a ring will only begin to close as the next few years go by, considering Durant and Harden are in their early 30s, with the former coming off an Achilles tear, and Irving hasn't played 70 or more games in a season since he was in Cleveland.

All eyes will be on Brooklyn for the remainder of the season, especially when Irving inevitably returns to the lineup. The Nets entered the season with a supremely heightened level of expectations with Durant and Irving, now with Harden in tow, that bar just got raised even higher.