When Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving joined Brooklyn back in the summer of 2019, we all foreseen championships. Instead the duo are ringless and will go down as the biggest failure in NBA history.
It started with a 50-point debut and ended in a blowout loss, with countless controversies in between.
Kyrie Irving’s Brooklyn Nets tenure came to an end on Sunday when he was traded to the Dallas Mavericks for former Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie, Dorian Finney-Smith and future draw picks.
The deal ends a tumultuous four years for the Nets and Irving. When he scored 50 points in his 2019 debut, against the Timberwolves, it marked the return of a New Jersey native to the franchise he cheered for as a kid. Once Durant’s rehab from an Achilles injury ended, the possibilities seemed endless.
Now, the Irving era closes with mediocre results, just 143 regular-season games played over four seasons and one controversy after another.
Irving’s debut 2019-20 season included him calling the Nets’ roster shortcomings “glaring” after a January loss to the Sixers in which he shot poorly. A month later, his season was over because of a shoulder injury.
The following season saw the team trade its depth and future draft picks for James Harden, all while Irving was away from the team. (It was later discovered Irving was attending a birthday party for a relative.) Some looked at the trade as insurance for Durant because of Irving’s lack of reliability. But in a year marred by injuries elsewhere, Irving produced a 50-40-90 season and played in 54 of 72 games, more than Durant and Harden.
That 2020-21 season marked Brooklyn’s best window to win a title with its three-headed offensive monster. But Irving landed on Giannis Antetokounmpoand sprained his ankle in Game 4 of the conference semifinals, which cost him the rest of the postseason. The Bucks went on to beat the Nets in seven games en route to a championship. Had Irving never went down, the Nets may have won the title with or without Harden, who reinjured his hamstring in Game 1 of the Bucks’ series.
Last season, Irving’s refusal to get the COVID-19 vaccine made him ineligible for home games, which led the Nets to sideline him for all games until reversing course to bring him back part-time in January. (The vaccine mandate was rescinded in March) Irving’s lack of commitment to the Nets factored into Harden’s trade request, which the Nets granted in sending him to the Sixers.
The Nets were swept out of the playoffs by Irving’s former team, the Boston Celtics, who went on to make the NBA Finals without him.
In his final comments of the season, Irving talked about “co-managing” the franchise with Durant. Two months later, Irving sought a sign-and-trade out of town after the Nets refused to offer him a long-term contract extension. When none materialized, he opted into his player option instead.
This season it took Irving fewer than 10 games to get into hot water. His promotion of an anti-Semitic documentary in October and his repeated refusal to apologize led to a suspension that lasted eight games. It cost him his relationship with Nike, despite having one of the best selling sneakers in the industry.
Since Irving returned from the suspension, he let his play do the talking. He was named an All-Star starter after averaging 27 points per game on 49 percent shooting.
Irving’s most recent trade request came after another round of failed contract talks and just two days after a blowout loss to the Celtics in Boston.
Along the way, Irving left plenty of highlights. He set a franchise-record for points scored in a game with 60 against the Magic last March. His buzzer-beater against the Raptors in December was the highlight of the Nets going 12-1 for the month, another franchise-best. Spurts of greatness like that are why teams will look past all of his controversies.
Off the court, he supported his high school, The Patrick School, and donated to various charities and causes. Throughout the drama, Irving’s talent was undeniable. He put on dribbling clinics that the Harlem Globetrotters would envy and scored off the glass at angles few attempted. Multiple players who tried to study his game compared Irving’s handles to having the ball on a yo-yo.
To best describe Kyrie’s tenure in Brooklyn, it was a car wreck that you could not look away from. For every highlight, a controversy would spark. For every chance at making championship runs, a misstep occurred.
This was supposed to be the golden age of Nets basketball. 3 bonafide hall of famers coming together in Brooklyn to bring the franchise its first NBA championship. The narratives were supposed to be can they win multiple rings, not if they can even suit up together for multiple games.
Durant and Irving played just 74 games together over three-plus seasons in Brooklyn. Durant, Irving and Harden played just 16 games together (they went 13-3, too, if you want to construct a multiverse worth of what-ifs). Just stunning, really. This is a league that seemingly runs on star drama, but a super-team dissolving without really ever playing together still shocks the senses.
Irving’s unavailability outweighed his ability, playing just 143 out of a possible 278 games in Brooklyn. His talent spoke for itself, but it was rarely ever on display. Some had to do with injuries, but majority of the games missed were a choice. Whether it be personal weeks he took, or the refusal to get vaccinated, Irving was just never at work. He was that coworker you would see once a week for a 4 hour shift.
The Nets Big 3, and ultimate dynamic duo will go down as the most underwhelming team in history. No team in sports history had been covered more for their off the court antics than their success on the court. We watched prime years of everyone involved wasted. We have been robbed of Kevin Durant playoff moments. Stripped of the the potential greatness of one of the most skilled guards in league history.
And for what?
Final Kyrie Irving resume from Brooklyn
- Franchie record 60 point game
- Earn more than $100 million
- Miss 134 games
- win 1 playoff series
- Demand multiple trades
- Refuse Covid Vaccine
- Promote anti-semitic movie
Now the Nets can move on from the constant headache that was Irving, but to act as if their problems are past them would be malpractice.
Kevin Durant requested a trade this past summer. He agreed to make it work this season, but going forward that partnership seems bleak. The roster construction will be limited do to Ben Simmons insane salary matched with his lack of production. Outside of Nicolas Clayton and maybe Cam Thomas, the Nets have no young core to develop. Joe Harris is locked in on big money. Dinwiddie seems like a stop gap guard, and Finney-Smith is the ideal wing to have, but that’s not enough to keep Durant who is 35 years old.
The window of his prime is closing faster than you’d think. He doesn’t have the luxury of wasting anymore time retooling to become a championship contender.
His legacy is taking a hit too. He left the Warriors, they’ve won a titled since and he can’t even find a committed teammate to run with.
For now the Nets and Durant will work together to make the best of this season, but once this offseason comes I expected them to grab Durant his trade request and go into a full rebuild once again.