Where do you start with the Brooklyn Nets fiasco?
It’s been a rough start to the season – both on and off the court – in fact, it’s hard to say where they’ve had bigger issues.
The whole narrative surrounding the Nets feels like something straight out of a movie or nonfiction book, with a bunch of bizarre twists along the way.
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Thu, 10 Nov
Thursday November 10th
Let’s start with on the court.
An enigma of sorts heading into the season, most had Brooklyn a rung below the absolute top teams in the Eastern Conference like the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks, yet still saw them as a strong playoff side.
Irving dropped by Nike, teammates react | 03:18
After all, Brooklyn finished seventh in the East last season with 44 wins despite its big three of Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and James Harden only playing 16 games together before the latter was shipped to the Philadelphia 76ers in a trade for Ben Simmons.
Plus last season, just like this season, was mired in uncertainty due to Irving’s ongoing absence due to New York City’s Covid-19 vaccine mandate.
But with the vaccine mandate and Durant’s trade saga (more on that later) behind them, plus three-time All-Star and three-time All-Defensive team Simmons coming in, there was renewed hope about what this team could do and let its basketball do the talking.
But within just over a week, Brooklyn’s record was 1-5, culminating in the firing of coach Steve Nash days later, replaced by Jacque Vaughn on an interim basis before he
They now sit a more respectful (but still lacklustre) 4-7, and to some concern, went 2-0 in the games both Irving and Simmons missed.
Heck, some even thought Brooklyn won the Simmons-Harden trade, suggesting the Aussie would fit better alongside Durant and Irving.
However Simmons, albeit playing for the first time in 16 months, has looked a shadow of his former self at both ends of the floor, struggling with foul trouble and being too passive offensively.
Through seven games, Simmons has averaged career lows across the board (5.6 points, six rebounds, 6.6 assists, 1.1 steals), also hampered by a knee issue that saw him come off the bench in Tuesday’s game against Dallas – and he’s even linked to trade talks.
Growing pains were to be expected with Simmons after missing so much time, but there’s genuine concerns the former Pick 1, who’s contracted until the 2024/25 season for a total of $112 million, might never get back to the player he once was.
“Now it’s at a point where you just hope he can be Philadelphia Ben,” Fox Sports’ (US) Chris Broussard said on The Herd.
“Forget Philadelphia (Simmons) plus add a little shot and he’s great. No, now you’re just hoping for that guy in Philadelphia who gave you 16 (points), eight (rebounds) and eight (assists) and never shot a jumper – he’s 30 per cent of that.
“They don’t have a shot if Ben Simmons does not become close to what he was in Philadelphia.”
This isn’t to pin all the Nets’ woes on Simmons, but his situation is similar to Russell Westbrook’s in LA in that as the third star and third highest paid player on the team, there’s a greater onus on his overall value, fit with the side and thus need for it to perform.
Beyond Durant and Irving (on the court), Nic Claxton and Royce O’Neale are the only other players the Nets are getting good value from, although Claxton’s clunky fit with Simmons is an issue.
Key pieces Joe Harris and Seth Curry have been below their best form as they too ramp back up after injuries.
It’s largely been on the defensive end where the Nets have struggled collectively, ranked 22nd in the league in defensive rating (113.2), while their middle-of-the-road offensive (112.4) hasn’t provided enough of a buffer.
The chemistry just hasn’t been there nor has it looked like a genuine team, with Durant’s star power at times keeping them in games.
Ultimately, the Nets are in a win-now build with arguably the best player in the league in Durant at the peak of his powers, yet are barely in the playoff mix.
“They’re not even close to winning (a championship),” NBA legend Charles Barkley said on NBA TNT.
“You’ve got two of the best players in the world and some good players … this thing is over.”
Kyrie not totally willing to apologise | 02:41
OK, so the Nets’ defence is bad and they’re just not clicking on the court. That can happen to even the most talented of rosters, and they can turn it around … right?
Unfortunately there’s much more at play here due to the off court stuff, with Brooklyn constantly engulfed in drama in arguably a bigger mess threatening to self destruct the team.
Looming over it all is Irving (there’s a common theme here).
There’s not much more to say about the controversial guard that hasn’t already been said. While there’s no doubting his basketball talent, drama just follows his guy and something new always comes up.
The latest was Irving initially refusing to apologise for an anti-Semitic post on social media before eventually doing so, with the Nets handing him a minimum five-game suspension and six “remedial measures” to complete in order to return.
There’s reportedly concerns though around the league he may never return to the Nets – and the NBA at large.
NBA insider Marc Stein reported the list of items he must undertake to return were in fact made with knowledge of the likelihood he’d be unable to do them and thus secure a release from the team, which suggests the Nets want him gone.
The Athletic’s Shams Charania did report Irving had a “productive” meeting with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, paving the way for the suspended star to work through his steps with the Nets on a potential plan moving forward.
But no one really knows what lies ahead for Irving, who’s set to become an unrestricted free agent at season’s end, and when or if he’ll return.
For ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, the Nets should take one last chance on the seven-time All-Star.
“We know he’s a superstar talent, we also know he’s a headache and is a distraction every single year. But it’s never been a distraction of this magnitude … this is different, because this is a tsunami of criticism of a highly sensitive nature,” Smith told ESPN.
“You insulted the Jewish community and as a result you created a maelstrom of controversy and there is no getting around that.
“I think unlike ever before, his career is in jeopardy… I think Kyrie recognises he’s on his last chance – I don’t think he ever saw it that way before.
“The are plenty of examples we can use in the world of professional sport where dudes had a lot left, but they weren’t considered worth the risk because of the cancerous impact they were perceived to have on a locker room.
“I think that’s where Kyrie Irving is at this particular moment in time. I think because of that, if there was ever a time where he would just focus on playing, and outside of that not have much else to say, I think this would be it.
“All those things being taken into consideration, I would say this is the most unique situation Irving has found himself in and arguably the most humbling situation he’s found himself in, where his career is absolutely, positively on the line.
“Knowing that, that encourages me, If I’m the Brooklyn Nets, to take that very last chance.”
But former NBA champion Kendrick Perkins disagreed, saying he thinks Irving returning would spoil the Nets’ new found “commerardie” and be too much of a risk to the other players’ careers.
Shaq blasts Irving over offensive post | 01:13
Perkins also suggested it wasn’t worth the risk given even with Irving, the Nets likely aren’t a genuine contender.
“If I’m the Brooklyn Nets, I can’t bring Kyrie back into that locker room. The locker room and the basketball is the guys’ sanctuary. This is when they come together and this is their livelihood,” Perkins said on ESPN.
“When it comes down to the team and those other individuals in that locker room, you cannot afford to put those guys in harm’s way.
“You can’t afford for him to slip up and say something wrong in the media. You can’t afford for him to have a wrong tweet or answer a question that could jeopardise their careers.
“I’m not taking anything away from Irving, we know he’s a spectacular basketball player. But as we have known over the last couple of weeks, this situation is bigger than the game of basketball.
“If I’m the Brooklyn Nets, I politely tell Irving: ‘Hey man, do whatever you have to do and let us rock out the rest of the season’.
“What is the Brooklyn Nets’ ceiling with Irving with this team as currently constructed as far and winning the championship or even coming out of the Eastern Conference?
“They’re not better than the Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers and Milwaukee Bucks and I don’t even know if they’re better than the Toronto Raptors and Atlanta Hawks at this moment.”
As it turns out, it hasn’t been Irving’s only act of defiance.
An NBA scout says during the Nets’ loss to the Pacers on December 30 – one of Irving’s last games before being suspended – he waved off a play called by Nash … on 10 seperate occasions. Yes, 10.
“I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” the scout told The New York Post. “Nash would call something, and he’d run the opposite. I’ve never seen anything like that.”
To no great surprise, the Nets parted ways with Nash one game later.
Perhaps Durant put it as well as anyone after Nash’s departure when he said “volatility” had been an ongoing theme hampering the Nets – although Durant himself has been part of the problem.
Durant requested a trade during the off-season and Irving was also nearly moved during a tumultuous period for the Nets that was always going to put the franchise in a precarious position early in the campaign.
Now with Simmons struggling and Irving again causing problems, as brutal as it sounds, Durant has been let down by his co-stars as something of a one-man show.
And with the Nets in such a bleak position otherwise, it’s hard to imagine Durant’s desire to leave Brooklyn has had any reason to change – if not strengthen – unless things drastically change from here.
The 34-year old, who’s contracted until the 2025/26 season for a total of over $190 million, wouldn’t want to waste any more of his prime playing for anything less than a title contender. While he’s also contributed to the disharmony, losing him would be a hammer blow.
Surely the chaos that’s been this season is the final straw for the former MVP.
“It is hard to imagine right now … that by the time Kyrie Irving could potentially be back and Ben Simmons is playing at a high enough level, that the Nets will be competitive enough for Kevin Durant to not look around and say: ‘I’d like to revisit the conversation we had over the summer’,” ESPN’S Adrian Wojnarowski said.
It’d consolidate the fact that the Durant and Irving era in Brooklyn since the superstar duo joined the team in the 2019 off-season has been a massive failure despite so much promise.
The Nets at the time were widely seen as the new near unstoppable super team in line to win several championships as the biggest threat to challenging the Golden State Warriors during their golden era – particularly given Durant had made the switch from Steve Kerr’s team.
But the deepest the Nets have gone during this period was the Eastern Conference semi-finals in a run that’s been marred by disorder.
The 2022/2023 season is fast shaping as another chapter in that story.
“They’re discombobulated and dysfunctional,” NBA legend Shaquille O‘Neal said on NBA TNT
“They’ve been together for four years. You’d think they’d have played for a championship or won a championship, so it’s been a wasted four years.”
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On top of all this mess, the Nets were reportedly eyeing former Celtics boss Ime Udoka to replace Nash as their new head coach before appointing Vaughn on a permanent basis.
So they have a malfunctioning environment, including arguably the league’s most erratic and troublesome player … then were keen to add a figure who was suspended from his last role just months ago due to having an improper relationship with a team staffer?
Again, it’s literally like something straight out of Hollywood.
Yes, Udoka has shown he can coach in taking Boston to the NBA Finals in his first season. But at this stage, it shouldn’t matter if he was Gregg Popovich given the circumstances, and thankfully, common sense eventually prevailed.
“Do the Brooklyn Nets have no shame?” ESPN’s Michael Wilbon said after Nash’s firing.
“They’ve got nothing right in four years and you’re going to make this hire (Udoka) with somebody who’s attached to his own shame? You’re going to double down on stupid?
“The Brooklyn Nets can’t make this hire.
“If the league is upset about all the things that have gone on with Kyrie Irving and how that franchise looks in New York City, what in the world will that office think of the Nets if they make this (hire)?
“This is not about Ime, this is about the Nets.”
It all makes for a grim situation in Brooklyn with more questions than answers for the interim.
Will Irving return? Should he? Will Simmons ever get close to the player he once was? How long until Durant requests a trade again?
Yes, it’s still very early in the new season, but this movie – perhaps a horror – doesn’t appear like it’ll have a happy ending.