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Healthy James Harden trying to make up for lost time at Nets camp

SAN DIEGO — James Harden has finally gotten his hamstring back to 100 percent. Now, he’s working on getting his conditioning there as well.

Between last year’s training camp drama when he was still with the Rockets, and the hamstring injuries that kept short-circuiting his campaign after his trade to the Nets, Harden has played less basketball over the past season than he’s accustomed to. Now healthy and in camp with the Nets, he’s making up for lost time.

“He’s healthy, but he’s trying to get himself in shape and elevate that,” head coach Steve Nash said. “He 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 a lot of basketball, period, since the [2020] bubble. It’s been stop-start for him. He still wants to get his legs under him, and then can feel a few new levels for him to go.”

Harden — who had missed just 20 games combined over the previous six regular seasons — played just 44 games last season.

He knows the lack of his usual conditioning led to the hamstring injury that cost him 20 of 21 games down the stretch and flared up seconds into Game 1 against Milwaukee. When he came back in Game 5, he was an immobile shell of his usual self.

James Harden
Denis Poroy

“Yeah, and I’ve been doing individual workouts and conditioning and things like that. But five-on-five competition is totally different than working out individually,” Harden said. “So the more we can get five-on-five games and build our conditioning up. And not just myself, our entire team. … I feel like we’re behind a little in [that] sense.”

Younger players often hit the ground running over the first three weeks because they’ve been playing pickup all summer. Meanwhile, the older veterans often have to play catch-up. The Nets are largely trying to make up that ground now.

“We haven’t let any young guys play,” Harden said with a laugh. “We’ve just been playing, all vets are trying to get in shape and get some continuity and get to know each other.”

That team-bonding — including Thursday’s outing to owner Joe Tsai’s home — is going to be vital with so many new faces. And on a squad of quiet introverts, Harden is taking on the mantle of leadership.

“I’ll try to get guys together for dinners and hangouts more often, just so we can get to know each other outside of the court,” Harden said. “We’ve got a fairly quiet group. Most of the guys are to themselves; they stay in their own little shells. It’ll be nice to get them out, open up a little bit, even myself.

“I’m not that loud, but … I’m more loud than anybody on this team, like Paul [Millsap], LaMarcus [Aldridge], Patty [Mills], [Kevin Durant], you’ve got a lot of guys who are just to themselves. So it’s my job to open them up a little bit more.”

Nets
James Harden
Corey Sipkin

That doesn’t include prodding Kyrie Irving to break his vaccine holdout. Harden claims he has blocked out all the outside noise about Irving, with the likes of CNN, Sen. Ted Cruz and the prime minister of Spain weighing in.

“That’s hard[core]. I don’t even know,” Harden said, tossing his hands up in the air. “I didn’t even know CNN [was] talking about us. I didn’t know Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar] and [Shaquille O’Neal] talked about us.

“Obviously, I know [with] Kyrie, but I don’t know who’s talking about him. I don’t pay attention to stuff. I stay out of that. Kyrie’s going to handle that stuff, and I just focus on training camp and preparing for a great season that we’re about to have.”

Harden also said he hasn’t focused much on Ben Simmons’ situation with the 76ers, which bears obvious parallels with his own drama in Houston last season before forcing a deal to the Nets.

“I stay out of it. That’s not my situation. Mine was totally different. But hey, I’m here in Brooklyn,” Harden said. “It was a little uncomfortable for me just because I don’t like a lot of attention, especially negative or draining energy.“I like to be in a good place. I like to smile and have people around me smiling and good vibes. So it was kind of a little uncomfortable for me. But I had to go through it and on the other side I’m happy to where I am now. Hopefully everybody forgot about it. Hopefully everybody moved on and everybody is great.”

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