The Nets traded the franchise’s future on Jan. 19 to add James Harden to Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
They dispatched Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, Taurean Prince and Rodions Kurucs, as well as 2022, 2024 and 2026 first-round picks and the right to swap first-round picks in 2021, 2023, 2025 and 2027 in a three-team package to acquire Harden from Houston.
And all it got them in the end was an Eastern Conference semifinals knockout by the Bucks. As thrilling and loud as it was for Game 7 on Saturday at Barclays Center, the Nets died in overtime, 115-111, and lasted just one round further than the rebuilding Knicks.
In the end, the trade got them a hamstring-impaired Harden. Coach Steve Nash had Harden play all 53 minutes Saturday, but he played most of it erratically as the Bucks took the Nets out in overtime.
As Harden deferred in OT, the Bucks’ two stars emerged: Giannis Antetokounmpo scored the tying bucket in the final minute and Khris Middleton netted the game-winner.
The Nets’ stars couldn’t get healthy enough. Kyrie Irving missed the final four games of the series with aright ankle sprain Kevin Durant called “gruesome’’ after the loss Saturday.
“[I feel] like s- -t, honestly,’’ Harden said. “So many emotions. Me personally, frustration for myself [not] being durable and being myself [like] the last so many postseasons. Dealing with his particular hamstring, it’s frustrating. I’m frustrated. We did everything we could.’’
It wasn’t the playoff-record 13 turnovers Harden committed in the Rockets’ 2015 Western Conference finals loss that clinched the series for the Warriors, but it wasn’t good.
In his third game back after suffering the hamstring injury, Harden was more limber, but more errant. Bucks point guard Jrue Holiday rose up at the end to hit big shots and free throws down the stretch, and also got a key late offensive rebound to pull out the victory.
Harden finished with 22 points as he got to the free-throw line for a 10-for-10 showing. But he shot 5-for-17 overall and 2-for-12 from 3-point range and committed four turnovers, including one hideous one with 4:30 left in regulation on a long feed to nobody. Harden also committed a bad foul on Middleton with 1:05 left and the Nets down two in regulation.
Nash said Harden was essentially playing on “one leg,’’ but didn’t trust his bench to give the veteran a breather in the finale.
“With myself and Ky out, it’s too much pressure on KD,’’ Harden said. “If we’re not injured and Ky is on the floor, it’s a totally different case.’’
The Nets’ Big 3 were injured off and on all season and Harden called that process “draining.’’ Harden said he had a grade 2 hamstring strain going.
“It’s very difficult to fight through it when the three best players are in and out of the lineups,’’ Harden said. “We have to take care of our bodies and be back next year.’’
The Nets’ Big 3 ain’t getting any younger, though.
“I knew it was possible [we wouldn’t win the title], we’re missing Kyrie and James is on one leg,’’ Nash said. “I still thought we could win it tonight. The game could’ve gone either way. We faced too many obstacles this year.’’
The Nets have been villains after since trading for “The Beard,’’ and now the villains are dead.
“I’m kind of oblivious to all the noise,’’ Nash said before the contest when asked if he liked that his team has been villains since the Harden trade. “So I forgot about that. If we’re still the villains, then we’ll embrace it.’’
Complaining of lack of mobility, Harden played 88 combined minutes in the first two games he was back, and then all 53 Saturday. Maybe Nash could’ve given his one leg a breather.
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