James Harden Says Kevin Durant Is MVP 'For Sure,' Talks Kyrie Irving's Return to Nets

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured Columnist IVDecember 29, 2021

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - DECEMBER 16:   Kevin Durant #7 of the Brooklyn Nets celebrates a 114-105 win against the Philadelphia 76ers during their game at Barclays Center on December 16, 2021 in New York City.   NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
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The Brooklyn Nets, despite battling through injuries, COVID-19 issues and no Kyrie Irving to this point in the season, are still 23-9 and atop the Eastern Conference standings. 

A huge reason for that has been the play of Kevin Durant, and teammate James Harden told ESPN's Malika Andrews that he believes KD should be considered the MVP front-runner:

Malika Andrews @malika_andrews

New for <a href="https://twitter.com/SportsCenter?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@SportsCenter</a>: James Harden tells ESPN Kevin Durant is “for sure” the league MVP. Plus, how he expects the Nets to play with Kyrie Irving back: <a href="https://t.co/MBnyDIUB4V">pic.twitter.com/MBnyDIUB4V</a>

"He's overly polished," Harden said while breaking down Durant's game. "Natural talent who knows the spots he wants to get to, and he's going to get there. It's not on the defender, it's on him, whether he makes the shot or misses the shot."

Durant is averaging a cool 29.7 points, 7.9 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game, shooting 52.3 percent from the field and 38.2 percent from three. He's the NBA's most automatic bucket and has allowed Harden to focus less on carrying the scoring load (22.0 PPG) like he had to do in his Houston Rockets days and more on being one of the NBA's most impactful playmakers (9.8 APG). 

As for getting back Irving—who isn't permitted to play in Nets' home games as an unvaccinated player but can play on the road once he clears the league's health and safety protocols after the Nets changed their stance on him being a part-time player—Harden is excited. 

"I know what it's going to be like when Kyrie comes back," he said. "It's going to be elite. You've got three of the best to ever do it. Obviously we want him full-time, but we'll figure that out later. But just to have him around—his spirit, his energy and obviously his skill set, his talent."

No matter how odd the Nets season may be given Irving's current status as a part-time player—there are major question marks about how that would work during a playoff series—Harden and the Nets remain focused on one thing, and one thing alone. 

And that's winning a title. 

"That's the goal," Harden said, repeating it two more times. "I've got to keep pushing until I get there."

The Nets were close to doing so last year, despite Irving being out of action due to injury and Harden clearly less than 100 percent. Those Nets took the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks to seven games in the Eastern Conference semifinals and overtime in the decisive game. 

And had Kevin Durant's foot not been barely grazing the three-point line on his final make in regulation, it would have been the Nets who advanced and would have been prohibitive favorites against the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference Finals and Phoenix Suns in the NBA Finals. 

If they can stay healthy and navigate the inherent strangeness of the Irving situation, the Nets have a good chance to accomplish that goal this year.