James Harden of the Nets tries to make up for lost time at camp
SAN DIEGO – James Harden has finally recovered his hamstrings to 100%. Now he is also working on getting his conditioning out there.
Between last year’s training camp drama while still with the Rockets and the hamstring injuries that continued to bypass his campaign after his trade with the Nets, Harden played less at the basketball in the last season than he used to. Now in good health and in the camp of the Nets, he is making up for lost time.
âHe’s healthy, but he’s trying to get back in shape and improve that,â said head coach Steve Nash. âHe hasn’t really played since the Boston series, and before that, he hadn’t played for a long time either. So he hasn’t played basketball much, period, since the  bubble. It’s a stop-start for him. He still wants to put his legs under him and then can feel a few new levels for him. “
Harden – who had only missed 20 games combined in the previous six regular seasons – only played 44 games last season.
He knows the lack of his usual conditioning led to the hamstring injury that cost him 20 of 21 games on the home stretch and erupted seconds after Game 1 against Milwaukee. When he returned in Game 5, he was just a still shell of himself.
âYeah, and I did individual workouts and conditioning and things like that. But five-on-five competition is totally different from individual training, âsaid Harden. âSo the more we can get in five-on-five games and strengthen our conditioning. And not just me, our whole team. … I have the impression that we are a little late in [that] sense.”
Young players often started playing in the first three weeks because they played pickup all summer. Meanwhile, older veterans often have to catch up. The Nets are largely trying to make up for that ground now.
âWe didn’t let any youngsters play,â Harden said with a laugh. “We just played, all the veterans are trying to get in shape, to have some continuity and to get to know each other.”
That team bond – including Thursday’s outing at owner Joe Tsai’s home – is going to be vital with so many new faces. And out of a squad of quiet introverts, Harden assumes the role of leader.
âI’m going to try to get the guys together for dinners and outings more often, just so we can get to know each other off the pitch,â said Harden. âWe have a fairly calm group. Most of the guys are alone; they stay in their own little shells. It will be good to take them out, to open up a little, even myself.
“I’m not that strong, butâ¦ I’m stronger than anyone on this team, like Paul [Millsap], LaMarcus [Aldridge], Patty [Mills], [Kevin Durant], you have a lot of guys who are right for themselves. So it’s my job to open them up a bit more.
This does not include prompting Kyrie Irving to break her resistance to the vaccine. Harden claims he has blocked out all outside noise about Irving, with figures including CNN, Senator Ted Cruz and the Prime Minister of Spain.
“It’s hard[core]. I don’t even know, Harden said, raising his hands in the air. “I didn’t even know CNN [was] talk about us. I didn’t know Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar] and [Shaquille OâNeal] talked about us.
“Obviously I know [with] Kyrie, but I don’t know who’s talking about him. I don’t pay attention to the stuff. I stay out of it. Kyrie is going to handle that stuff, and I’m just focusing on training camp and building up a great season that we’re about to have.
Harden also said he hadn’t focused much on Ben Simmons’ situation with the 76ers, which has obvious parallels to his own drama in Houston last season before forcing a deal with the Nets.
âI stay out of this. This is not my situation. Mine was totally different. But hey, I’m here in Brooklyn, âHarden said. âIt was a little uncomfortable for me just because I don’t like a lot of attention, especially negative or exhausting energy. âI like being in the right place. I love to smile and have people around me smiling and good vibes. So it was a little uncomfortable for me. But I had to go through it and on the other side I’m happy with where I am now. Hope everyone has forgotten about it. Hope everyone has moved on and everyone is awesome.