Kyrie Irving may have finally apologized for his promotion of a film which contained antisemitic tropes, but it’s likely that he’s already caused the destruction of the Brooklyn Nets as we know them.
Whenever this era of the Nets comes to a close, and it’s likely to within a matter of months, the prevailing thought when it comes to this team will be one of a wasted opportunity.
It’s likely to be a sad ending to a union that promised so much when Irving and Kevin Durant left their previous situations to team up on the Nets in the summer of 2019.
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The Nets were widely lauded when landing the two biggest free agents of that summer, with their crosstown rival New York Knicks panned in comparison after being snubbed by the star duo.
After being the laughingstock of the NBA for the majority of the previous decade when they were spectacularly fleeced by the Boston Celtics in a deal which saw Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett head to Brooklyn, the Nets had spent years rebuilding spectacularly with the most shallow asset pool in the competition, with GM Sean Marks making savvy move after savvy move on the margins.
Joining the Nets seemed like the smart move for Irving and Durant at the time. They were two superstars who could fit into and thrive within a strong culture that had been built in the years preceding their arrival.
Unfortunately for the Nets, from the moment they signed their max contracts, Irving and Durant began undermining the culture the Nets had worked so hard building.
Irving and Durant’s commitments were immediately followed by the peculiar signing of big man DeAndre Jordan on a four-year, USD$40 million deal. The deal immediately raised eyebrows aplenty, particularly with the Nets already having a talented young big man in Jarrett Allen on the roster.
The Jordan signing was considered the ‘tax’ of acquiring Durant and Irving, with Durant close friends with the then-30-year-old. He would wind up playing just 113 games for Brooklyn.
Jordan’s arrival immediately caused problems for incumbent Nets coach Kenny Atkinson, who’d been widely lauded for dragging a rag-tag roster to the playoffs the season prior.
Despite Jordan being well past his prime, the Nets superstars had reportedly demanded that their friend be played in the starting lineup over Allen. Atkinson was hesitant to and that decision effectively cost him his job.
Atkinson was replaced by Steve Nash that summer, and even before he’d coached a single minute he was undermined by Irving.
In a now-infamous podcast episode with Durant, Irving said with no hint of sarcasm, “I don’t really see us having a head coach”.
“You know what I mean? KD could be a head coach. I could be a head coach,” he said.
Nash might as well have walked off the job the moment that podcast episode dropped because his days were numbered.
Those comments from Irving raised a lot of eyebrows, but he was far from done with being a distraction.
Nash’s tenure started out well. The Nets looked like the world-beaters like everyone in the basketball world thought they’d be, blowing out Durant’s old team Golden State in a season-opener, and then doing the same to Irving’s old team Boston in its second game to start the 2020-21 season.
The combination of Irving and Durant alongside the Nets’ existing pieces in Allen, Caris LeVert, Joe Harris and others looked like a deep title contender.
Then Irving inexplicably went off the grid. He eventually returned after an 11-day, seven-game absence, but by then, the Nets had decided that with his availability uncertain, they should trade virtually every asset they had for another superstar to have alongside Durant, James Harden.
Allen and LeVert have since both landed on the Cleveland Cavaliers, a side that appears on the the upward trajectory towards contention the Nets should’ve been on. Allen was named an All-Star last season.
Harden, Durant and Irving combined to brilliant effect towards the back end of the 2020-21 season, with many tipping the Nets to take out the title. Unfortunately for the Nets, Irving rolled his ankle and Harden suffered a hamstring injury in the playoffs.
Both losses would ultimately prove to be insurmountable as the Nets fell in seven to the would-be champion Milwaukee Bucks.
While Irving and Harden combined well towards the end of their first season, the relationship soon frayed courtesy of Irving’s controversial refusal to get vaccinated for the following season.
An early injury to Durant left Harden suddenly carrying the entire load in Brooklyn, with Irving initially unable to play in any home games.
A peeved Harden, who was set to become a free agent that summer, made it clear that he wouldn’t be re-signing with the Nets and was ultimately dealt to Philadelphia in a deal that sent Andre Drummond, Seth Curry and Ben Simmons to Brooklyn.
It’s early, but the results on that deal are less than favorable from a Nets perspective.
That brings us to today, where Irving has yet again become a massive distraction to a franchise that does not need it right now.
For so long, Irving’s off-court shenanigans were made bearable because the on-court product was so supreme.
His production still remains supreme. He’s averaging 27 points, five rebounds and five assists per game and remains one of the premier guards in the league. That’s what’s so frustrating about it.
It remains unclear when Irving will be back in the Nets’ lineup, if at all. He is suspended for “no less than five games”.
“We were dismayed today, when given an opportunity in a media session, that Kyrie refused to unequivocally say he has no antisemitic beliefs, nor acknowledge specific hateful material in the film,” a Nets statement announcing Irving’s ban said in part.
“Such failure to disavow anti-Semitism when given a clear opportunity to do so is deeply disturbing, is against the values of our organization and constitutes conduct detrimental to the team.
“Accordingly, we are of the view that he is currently unfit to be associated with the Brooklyn Nets.”
With Irving currently in the final year of that max contract he signed back in 2019, don’t be surprised if the two parties just decide to cut their losses altogether and No.11 winds up on another team after his suspension.
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