Peace, lots of promises and a goal? It was all that and more in Brooklyn just three years ago, which now feels like 30 years for a team that can no longer go 30 minutes without everyone wondering again why Kevin Durant left a Golden State dynasty… for this.
Oh, yeah: In the fall of 2019, when these superstar-infused Nets opened camp instead of a Pandora’s box, everything seemed so perfect. It also sounded that way, as Durant and Kyrie Irving, after fleeing better teams in free agency, rushed to grow together and take the Nets to new heights. What could go wrong?
It’s either hilarious or heartbreaking to go back and listen to what was said then and compare it to now.
Durant, on why he was bullish on the Nets: “Basketball was appealing. They got the parts and a creative front office.
(Durant asked for a trade last summer, questioned the roster and particularly took aim at general manager Sean Marks and coach Steve Nash.)
Durant, again: “I was doing a lot of YouTube research on Kenny Atkinson and I really liked his approach and that’s what got me pretty quickly.
(Atkinson, a no-nonsense guy, only lasted one more season as coach before a rebellion.)
Irving on the decision to team up: “With KD and [DeAndre Jordan]it was 4:16 in the morning we were just talking about our future and how this opportunity before us is something that we haven’t had in our careers talking in detail about the future and the investment that we had in each other and the investment that we wanted to have in Brooklyn so it made sense, and then having the amazing people that they have in the organization made it a lot easier.
You had the idea. Things have changed, things have happened, and not for the better in Brooklyn, where a team built with championship aspirations now has a stomach ache in the Eastern Conference basement, currently 1-5 and deals with issues on the floor and away from her, both very distracting if not irritating.
The Nets’ dysfunction can be blamed on superstar empowerment and how bad it can go, and a frantic front office desperately trying to salvage the day, and a devalued Ben Simmons whose confidence seems, ahem, ” downed,” and beleaguered and perhaps surpassed Nash and a “deep-thinking” playmaker whose skill at stirring up drama matches his delicate dribbling.
Of course, the Nets can topple all of that and move up the standings by the end of the month; it would speak to the supreme talent of Durant and Irving, both averaging over 30 points and still capable of taking control of a game. But here and now? To quote former Net worker Micheal Ray Richardson, who once sounded the alarm in New York a lifetime ago: The ship is sinking.
Could it be that the highlight of these Nets is forever Durant on the 3-point line a few years ago against the Bucks in the playoffs? Because almost everything since then has been unsettling and dampening their lofty expectations.
The Nets traded a handful of promising young players (Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen) two years ago for James Harden, a former Kia MVP whose arrival only increased the perception of the Nets as a potential dynasty . But Harden quickly grew frustrated and bailed out the Sixers, who were only too willing to fire Simmons in exchange.
Speaking of…remember those strategically placed social media videos last summer showing Simmons dropping a streak of 3-pointers in workouts? Well, he still hasn’t shaken the stigma of being allergic to outside shooting. He’s only attempted a 3 this season, missing it and not posting a double-digit game despite the defense giving him plenty of room. He’s averaging 6.2 points and 4.3 fouls per night. Remember, while Simmons has never been a volume shooter, his career average was 16 points before this season.
As a three-time All-Star, he hasn’t had a hard-hitting game at either end of the court in six career games in Brooklyn, raising legitimate questions about his place and whether he’s still annoyed by the public flogging of the infamous playoff. series between the Sixers and the Hawks two years ago.
Irving was surprised by a scorching on-field mic imploring Simmons to “shoot it” last Wednesday in a loss to the Bucks. Irving later said he was supportive and berated the audience, saying “give it a chance (beep)”, but added:
“We want Ben to be aggressive every game, we want him to get an assist every game, we want him to bounce back, we want him to do everything we know he is capable of. But at at that point, he’s going to have to work on his own confidence and feel good about himself.The reality is, we’re going to keep trying this experiment every night until we get the recipe right.
Irving knows something about trust; he got off to an excellent start and confirmed his place among the league’s top twelve players. Of course, that’s not the talking point swirling about him right now. When Irving took to social media last week to seemingly support a film deemed anti-Semitic, the NBA took the unusual step of condemning hate speech – without citing why or who was the reason for making a statement first. venue.
The NBA released the following statement: pic.twitter.com/vuTVhEegeh
— NBA Communications (@NBAPR) October 29, 2022
But everyone with a username and password knew that.
That’s the problem with Kyrie since joining the Nets: He’s managed to deflect attention from his consistent and often brilliant performances by taking social, medical and political stances he deems bold and meaningful, while ‘a segment company – and his own team and league – see him at best irresponsible and at worst reckless and definitely misinformed. The only certified experts he listens to are those inside his head. And every time the outside world pushes him away, Kyrie becomes more defiant and double.
This is the main reason why the Nets refused to offer him a contract extension last summer, which obviously raises serious doubts about his future with the team once he becomes an unrestricted free agent. ‘next summer. And if Kyrie leaves without a sign and trade, the Nets get a quick return – and so Durant loses yet another vital teammate as he begins to hit his mid-30s, leaving the former MVP most likely asking for a trade again .
After losing at home Saturday to the lowly Pacers, their fourth straight stumble, the Nets players met internally and aired their complaints. Simmons called the discussion ‘honest’ and Durant described the mood as ‘gloomy’ because the Nets can’t fool themselves or anyone else – the start to the season was a disaster from all points of view.
Nash, who is usually measured in public even after the toughest losses, said, “We have to look deep inside ourselves and what we want to do. What do we want to accomplish? Do we want to give up because it was difficult in the beginning or do we want to stay the course and start building something? We had a lot of very good days here at the start of the season and we lost a few games and that really shook our mentality. And we don’t see the same competitive spirit, the same goal, and if we don’t clean that up, it won’t get better.
If it continues, the prize will likely be Nash’s job next season, if not sooner, although the Nets’ struggles can also be attributed to the fog surrounding Simmons, injuries to Seth Curry and Joe Harris and the lack of a great quality man/rim protector. The Nets are allowing 122.2 points, second-to-last in the league, another major concern.
The program lightens up. It will help. A Pacers rematch is Monday, followed soon by the Wizards, Hornets, Kings… and the Lakers’ lightning rod, the Nets’ identical twin brother living in the Western Conference.
The NBA season is funny, weird even. Keep that in mind. Misery can turn into happiness in a week. Especially since the young NBA calendar barely arrives at Halloween. Especially for a team that has Durant and Kyrie together. Yesterday’s narrative can have a spectacularly short lifespan.
Durant was therefore being reasonable when he said, “We’ve got a lot of basketball to play ahead of us.”
It’s true. But it’s also fair to revisit an old statement from Kyrie, long before he took his controversial positions, long before Simmons and Nash arrived, even before Durant and Kyrie first broke a sweat in uniform. Nets and raises an eyebrow as he reads it.
“We want to end our careers together,” he said in 2019, when life with the Nets was fresh and new and less complicated. “We want to do it as a team, and what better place to do it than Brooklyn?”
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Shaun Powell covered the NBA for over 25 years. You can email him here, find his archives here and follow him on Twitter.
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