Is this déjà vu?
On Wednesday night, the Nets knocked off the Wizards 119-118 in Washington, in, yet, another game in which Brooklyn’s Big 3 was incomplete, as Kevin Durant is out 4-to-6 weeks with a sprained MCL. To date, the trio of James Harden, Kevin Durant, and Kyrie Irving have only been on the floor together 16 times since Harden arrived over a year ago.
Rec league teams play more games together than that.
“What happened to K.D. and then Ky being able to play road games only and Joe [Harris], Nic [Claxton], LaMarcus [Aldridge], but we’ve been a resilient group all year, since I’ve been here,” Harden said on Saturday after Durant got hurt.
Between Irving’s anti-vax stance only allowing him to play road games and the injury bug biting each member of the Big 3 since they’ve all been in Brooklyn, we can only wonder if we’ll ever see the trio play at full strength over an extended period.
It’s a similar situation that hoops fans found themselves in over two decades ago.
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“It could have been something really special,” Grant Hill said a few years back when discussing what could have been after his teaming up with Tracy McGrady with the Orlando Magic in 2000 didn’t go as planned.
In the summer of 2000, the Magic struck gold as they were able to sign Hill and McGrady. Orlando had put the league on notice as they now had two of the best young players in the league, as they did when they made the 1995 NBA Finals with Penny and Shaq.
However, all the hype was for naught as injuries derailed Hill’s time in Orlando, as he only played in 47 games in the four seasons that McGrady was his teammate — which includes the entire 2003-2004 season that Hill missed with an ankle injury. Back then, having a Big 2 was the thing to do in the NBA as the idea of having three superstars on a team wasn’t really a thing most contenders were exactly trying to do — yet. Ironically, the Magic almost had a third star as they were very close to adding Tim Duncan to McGrady and Hill.
“If Duncan comes here, it will be scary,” McGrady told reporters at the time. “It will be unfair to the league if all three of us come here. We have the East. We’ll be playing the Lakers for years.”
Rumors swirled that then-Magic coach Doc Rivers messed the whole thing up when Orlando was recruiting Duncan.
“I was there. I made my visit with Tim Duncan,” Hill told ESPN. “I was at the dinner when someone in Tim’s entourage, I’ll just leave it that way, asked Doc, can significant others travel on the plane? And Doc said no… And afterward, my wife said, he should have just lied, he should have said yes.”
Duncan’s longtime Spurs teammate Bruce Bowen also chimed in on the situation.
“When Tim went out to meet with Orlando, he asked this question: Can family come on the flights to some games? And from what I understand, Doc said no, and that’s where he lost Tim Duncan,” Bowen claimed.
But, despite what Hill and Bowen have publicly stated, according to Rivers, travel arrangements weren’t the reasons why Duncan didn’t make the move.
“I actually told him, absolutely families can fly, not all the time, but every once in a while,” Rivers recounted to TNT. “So that story isn’t told correctly.”
Between Grant Hill’s injuries and Tim Duncan’s recruitment, the Orlando Magic are one of the best “what could have been” stories in the NBA that most people have forgotten about. Twenty years later, the Brooklyn Nets are on the precipice of following a similar script if they can’t stay healthy or figure out how to get their part-time star to become a full-time employee again.