False prophets and poetic justice.
Three years ago, the script seemed set in stone.
Brooklyn went all-in on constructing a super team, with a two-time NBA Finals MVP in Durant and the guard who’d hit the finals-winning shot in Game 7 of the 2016 finals in Irving as the foundation. It did not matter that KD would miss the entire 2019-20 season rehabbing his torn Achilles. There would be championship games in Gotham, and soon.
Then basketball happened. And COVID-19. And injuries. And Scary Hours. Then just scary play.
Or in other words, reality struck.
And now three years later, Brooklyn has yet to reach as much as an Eastern Conference finals.
“No regrets. Shit happens,” Durant told reporters after the Nets were swept out of the first round of the playoffs Monday by the Boston Celtics.
To be sure, a lot of shit has happened in Brooklyn the last two years. But a lot of it was self-inflicted.
A super team requires its stars to be the driving force in developing both championship habits and on-court play. But Durant has played in just 90 regular-season games since coming to Brooklyn, missing another six weeks this season with an MCL sprain as the team cratered.
Irving has played in just 103 games since coming to NYC, missing significant time last season for never-specified personal reasons.
The organization walked on eggshells all season after Irving announced he would not comply with New York City’s vaccine mandate, which prohibited him from playing in home games, until the city’s new mayor, Eric Adams, rescinded the mandate in March. But by then, there was no changing who the Nets had become: all season, the Nets were a) too small, and b) stopped defending, bad traits to carry into the postseason.
The Nets also chose to replace Kenny Atkinson as coach with Steve Nash, who’d never been a coach at any level before getting the job. When Irving said he didn’t need to be coached the tires of a steady ride to the top began to fall off. Kenny Atkinson, who brought the D’Angelo Russell led Nets to the playoffs and developed the likes of D’Lo, Caris LeVert, and Jarrett Allen, was fired and immediately replaced by a virgin coach in Steve Nash.
KD and Irving wanted a guy “of their eliteness” who could understand them to lead the way. Light practices, if any. And no system that enforced team ball over hero ball. Because what is Kyrie without his 4 hesi-crossover combos before taking an off balance shot.
Simply put the “most skilled duo of all time” wanted to display their skills at every waking moment on the hardwood.
Except KD should’ve know the outcome of choosing skills over coaching, he literally had this dynamic in OKC. He and Westbrook were often the best duo in the league, but their head coach was Scott Brooks. They lost because he got laps ran around him by every coach in the league during crunch time. It is why he left for Steve Kerr and Golden State because he marveled at their system. Hew wanted out of the isolation, save me system and into one that can actually win.
But he fumbled his legacy by resorting back to his toxic trait, hero ball. This time with Brooklyn vibes and sage Irving over OKC and Westbrick.
They also moved two of their young cornerstones — center Jarrett Allen and swingman Caris LeVert in exchange for James Harden.
The Big 3, or Scary Hours trio, combined to play just 16 games together before Harden forced his way out for greener pastures.
The trio could’ve been great. But naturally they were taken out over a vaccine mandate that clearly affected the relationship between Harden, who showed up every night, and Irving who was absent and later a part time worker.
The Nets gave up their depth and future to land Harden. Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie and Jarrett Allen plus picks for a one year rental of James Harden who contributed to one playoff series win. Scary scene for sure.
Just imagine a Nets team with those 3 surrounding KD and Kyrie. I think this series outcome is drastically different, not to mention the series last year against the Bucks. Literally could have been scary hours in Brooklyn.
Aside from having tweets in the drafts and prepping sage, the duo most be pondering how they’ve fallen to such lows when the highs they promised seem out of reach.
Post game after their elimination, Irving sat on his throne and preached to the peasants, oh I mean his favorite media members.
“I felt like I was letting the team down at a point when I wasn’t able to play,” Irving said after Boston’s 116-112 victory Monday. “We were trying to exercise every option for me to play, but I never wanted it to just be about me.”
Oh Kyrie I have a glaring option you clearly didn’t exercise, but lets not run back that conversation for the hundredth time.
But looking ahead the Brooklyn Nets need to do some self reflecting and acceptance for their roles in this colossal failure.
This is when sports writers are supposed to write that big changes are necessary, maybe starting with the coach. But this is also the time when wild overreaction to postseason defeats can occur.
But looking at the Nets roster and the overwhelming influence Durant and Irving have over the front office, what actually changes?
Brooklyn’s not trading Durant, and Irving (I know, I know) insisted he was going to stick around long term with a new contract this season. And, Nash was hand picked by the most stubborn duo of all time. If they allow Brooklyn to fire Nash, just or unjust, that would mean they accept that they were wrong and I don’t think either has that in them.
But, Durant and Irving are still two of the top half-dozen offensive talents in the game. Harris has led the NBA in 3-point percentage two of the last four seasons. A healthy Simmons is a defensive force who can pass at an elite level. Still, Durant will be 33 at the start of next season, and he hasn’t been able to stay healthy for a while.
Irving is one blow of the wind in a different direction from taking a month off from work.
Ben Simmons is even more of a question mark than Irving, both mentally and physically.
Brooklyn isn’t a sure thing anymore. The East is vastly improved, and the future is murky. But one thing about those murky waters is the tide changes vastly in a calendar year.
The NBA proves that each year, especially in the player empowerment era. With health willing, mandates eliminated and added depth, the Nets can bounce back to heights they’ve never reached.
Just don’t bet on a team filled with inconsistent wild cards.