The Brooklyn Nets failed to live up to their lofty potential last season as they lost to the Milwaukee Bucks in seven games in the Eastern Conference semifinals. On paper, the Nets were arguably the most talented team in the entire NBA, but they were plagued by injury issues. Their star trio of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden played less than 10 total games together during the regular season, and Harden and Irving both missed time in the series against Milwaukee. As a result, the Nets were unable to advance to the conference finals.
The Nets will have another excellent opportunity to win the first title in franchise history during the upcoming 2021-22 season, as long as they can stay healthy. If they can do that, they'll be an extremely tough team to topple, and that isn't lost on Harden. "At full strength, nobody can beat us. I'm just going to leave it at that," Harden said in an interview with Sports Illustrated while adding that the team isn't operating with a chip on its shoulder after last season.
"There's no chip at all, no chip for us," Harden said. "We're just excited. We're focused. We know what we have to do. The biggest thing is us being healthy, which we will be. Honestly, we're just excited to play a whole season together. That's the exciting part."
Harden missed the first four games of the series against the Bucks after he hurt his hamstring less than a minute into Game 1. He returned for the final three games but was clearly still hampered by the injury. As a result, he has dedicated a bulk of his offseason to rehab and conditioning in an effort to be at full strength for the start of the season.
"Conditioning is my main focus," Harden said of his offseason approach. "I'm still trying to basically get healthy from my hamstring injury, which I was dealing with for a few months. So I want to make sure I'm completely healed and strong enough so I can go out there and completely be myself. My rehab is going very, very well, and my getting my conditioning right is a big part of that."
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After operating as a high-volume scorer for nearly a decade in Houston, Harden plans to continue to focus on his playmaking in Brooklyn, as he did last season.
"Kevin and Kyrie can always go get a bucket, and, with me as a playmaker, I can think about how to get shooters involved, how to get bigs touches, how to create open shots," Harden said. "My main focus is trying to get everybody involved and have each guy make an impact on the game."
Before the season starts, Harden has a bit of business to attend to, as he's eligible to sign a large contract extension with the Nets over the offseason. Durant signed his own extension with Brooklyn earlier this month, and Nets general manager Sean Marks is confident that Harden, and Irving, will both do the same. If all three players do indeed ink extensions, Brooklyn's championship window will remain open for the foreseeable future.