OPINION: Irving, Durant and Harden: Breaking up the Big Three

Kevin Durant (middle), Kyrie Irving (left) and James Harden in a lineup.

The National Basketball Association’s trade deadline officially ended on Feb. 9. Many blockbuster deals took place, but the most noticeable ones involved guard Kyrie Irving and forward Kevin Durant, two superstars from the Brooklyn Nets.

It’s significant any time two players likely to be inducted into the Hall of Fame are traded. However, these two were different. At one point, the Nets were seen as basketball’s greatest powerhouse. Now, the team will forever be viewed as the greatest failure in NBA history.

Irving was traded to the Dallas Mavericks and Durant to the Phoenix Suns, making the Suns the favorite in the Western Conference and changing the landscape of the entire NBA.

In 2019, Irving and Durant decided to join Brooklyn. With Durant still rehabbing from an Achilles injury, no one expected a championship their first year.

Durant and Irving returned in 2020 and were the favorites to win the NBA championship. These odds increased when the Nets traded all of their young assets to sign another superstar talent in guard James Harden, making them a nuclear force.

During the regular season, the Nets managed to get to the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. Brooklyn then beat the Boston Celtics in five games in the first round.

In the second round, Irving and Harden were hurt, leaving Durant to fly solo. The Nets lost to the Milwaukee Bucks in seven games. They were up 2–1 before the Irving injury that cost them a ring.

During all this, the world was on fire from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The following season, a vaccine mandate was put in place, so players had to get vaccinated to play home games in New York. Irving decided he didn’t want to get vaccinated.

The team wasn’t satisfied with where they were in the standings for a few months, so Irving came in to play only away games.

The Nets were still a top seed until Durant got hurt and Harden hurt his hamstring. The 2022 trade deadline came around, and Harden asked to be traded, marking the beginning of the end.

Harden was traded for guard Ben Simmons, an all-star for the Philadelphia 76ers. With Durant still hurt, Simmons unable to play due to a back injury and Irving only playing away games, the Nets went on a 10-game losing streak, leading to a fast fall in the Eastern Conference standings.

Brooklyn’s luck started to look up when New York lifted its vaccine mandate, allowing Irving to play home games. Durant was also able to return around this time as well. After a 10-game losing streak, Brooklyn had to make their way back into the playoffs.

During the NBA play-in, a tournament in which teams seeded 7-10 fight for a playoff spot, the Nets beat the Cleveland Cavaliers to advance to the playoffs. This pitted them against the second-seed Celtics.

Irving had a masterpiece performance in the first game, but the Nets lost on a buzzer-beater from small forward Jayson Tatum. The Celtics ended up winning the next three games, sweeping Brooklyn.

Going into the summer, everyone was still determining the future of the team. Irving was a free agent, Durant requested a trade and it had been over a year since Ben Simmons had played basketball.

Irving ended up opting into his contract, and later in the summer, Durant rescinded his trade request. The new big three was set to play, but then Irving posted a tweet about an anti-Semitic film with no context behind it, leading to a suspension from the Nets.

The Nets had a poor start to the 2023 season, so they fired their head coach Steve Nash in November. With controversy still surrounding Irving, Brooklyn hired assistant coach Jacque Vaughn. As Vaughn took the helm, their season started to take a turn for the better.

After Irving’s suspension ended, Brooklyn went 18–2, making them No. 2 in the Eastern Conference. The whole season, Durant and Irving carried the team while Simmons underperformed.

After consistent play, Durant ended up getting injured again. Irving was able to keep them afloat, putting up MVP numbers.

During mid-season negotiations, Irving wanted a contract extension but could never make a deal with the Nets. The contract the Nets offered him was contingent on them winning a championship.

Irving then requested a trade, and after he got traded, Durant did not want to stay in Brooklyn. Now, they are both on their new respective teams.

The Nets had three superstar players ask for a trade within one year. You have to look at the organization. What could have been? We’ll never know. In a vacuum, they were arguably one of the best teams of all time.

With Irving and Durant both in the Western Conference, the road to a title is more competitive. Teams made major moves to try to restock for the new threats in the West.

Luka Dončić and Irving are now the best backcourt in the NBA. Potentially, the Phoenix Suns have the best team in the NBA with Durant, Chris Paul, Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton.

The East is top-heavy with the Bucks, Celtics and 76ers. Out west, we don’t know who will make it out, which makes this year’s playoffs one to watch.