Two stars, no team: Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving’s Brooklyn Nets went straight into the wall

Imagine a tiny door with huge spotlights shining on it. This is where the Brooklyn Nets have just left the NBA playoffs, swept away in four sets in the first round by the Boston Celtics, after another defeat Monday night at home (112-116). The New York formation is the only one not to have won a match in these playoffs. A terrible humiliation for a franchise which nevertheless had the ambition to win the first title in its history. The fall is all the more violent.

So the corpse is still hot but the autopsy has been waiting wisely for several weeks, even several months, from this drop in the rankings – 11 defeats in a row – in February through the twists and turns around the vaccination status of Kyrie Irving. Injuries, tensions, controversies… so many elements came to pollute the season of the Nets, concluded by this sweep. To leave traces. Even at a press conference, Kevin Durant seemed at the end of his rope, running out of energy to explain or seek the reasons for this bitter failure.

Of course he’s tired. KD made himself available for Team USA last summer. A three-week preparation followed by a trip to Japan with the Olympic Games where he struggled to bring back a gold medal. In the aftermath, he found himself forced to play 37 minutes a game – aged 33 and two years after a torn Achilles tendon – because his teammate and best friend refused to get a COVID-19 shot. Inevitably, he ended up getting injured. And barely returned, he had to fuel to send his team to the playoffs. Once qualified, Durant had no respite. 176 minutes out of a possible 192 over the four matches. Impossible to get it out, otherwise it will take on water.

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They are bound to be tired: Kyrie is fasting every day and Kevin has to play more than 40 minutes a game after being out for six to seven weeks“, confided Steve Nash about his best players after Game 3. An argument still advanced after the elimination of Brooklyn, but with one (important) nuance: this time, Nash, Durant and Irving put forward the extra-sporting as the first factor of fatigue. “Everyone in the organization knows what we’ve been through“, notices KD. Kyrie talks to him”from the center of attention of the media rush.“There, perhaps even without knowing it, they have finally put their finger on the beginning of the problem. But without reading it correctly.

Kevin Durant vs Jayson Tatum, on the Nets logo – 04/25/2022

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Talent but no chemistry, no genius

If the Nets – and in particular Irving – have been constantly in the center of attention … it is first by choice. It all starts with the All-Star leader’s decision not to get vaccinated against COVID-19 when New York rules required at least one dose to enter the city’s large enclosures, of which the Barclays Center is a part. Unfit for home games, the 30-year-old was sidelined by his franchise until they felt compelled to bring him back to relieve Durant.

The person concerned felt targeted, but it was above all the consequences of his decision. He even made a mea culpa debut after Game 4: “I feel like I let the team down at a time when I wasn’t allowed to play. I never wanted to be the center of attention but I think I was a distraction for us.” Too late.

This circus inflated everyone except Durant, who continued to defend his comrade tooth and nail. James Harden, he preferred to throw in the towel and force his departure in the middle of the season, heading to Philadelphia, a direct competitor, barely a year after having acted in the same way in Houston. “There was no continuity“, regrets the number 7 of the Nets. It was actually felt on the ground. No consistency. No chemistry.

Kevin Durant during Atlanta Hawks – Brooklyn Nets in the NBA on April 2, 2022

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The Celtics have certainly defended very well on the best forward in the world, limited to 26 points on 39% on shots and 33% on three-pointers with more than 5 losses of ball per game. But they also took advantage of a tactical nothingness. A poor and stereotyped game, predictable as possible with mainly isolations played by the two stars. Brooklyn doesn’t even lack talent beyond its two future Hall Of Famers.

Four other players averaged more than 10 points in the series. But there was no bond between the different members of the major five. No collective movement, or almost. And that, against a real team like Boston, is paid for in cash. Yet with Steve Nash on the bench, the Suns maestro of the early 2000s, a collective power with altruistic and constantly moving players, precursors of modern basketball. There was no genius in his decision-making. Few variations.

Stars but no culture, no respect

The coach often acts as a scapegoat but the stars should not be exempt from blame in Brooklyn. It is time for the organization to make them face up to their responsibilities. Because so far, they have had all the rights. And only Kevin Durant returned the favor by showing himself up to it. The others do not assume their status, or do not understand it.

Kyrie Irving has let his teammates down. Ben Simmons too, sort of. The Australian arrived in February vowing to put in place a whole process to return to competition. He still hasn’t played. James Harden abandoned ship feeling it was going to sink. There is a real cultural problem in this franchise. In distress for years, the Nets took the time to rebuild a real solid hard core, by focusing on work, to finally have a chance to convince strong individuals to join them.

Durant and Irving took the bait and turned everything upside down, questioning the methods of management and staff as soon as they arrived. To the point where Kenny Atkinson preferred to resign. Management gave in. The bet could indeed be worth it: the stars are the first ingredient for a team aiming for the title. The Celtics also wouldn’t win without Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. But the Nets need to understand it’s deeper.

Durant Irving

Credit: Getty Images

When I say I’m here with Kev, I really see it as the fact that we have to lead this franchise alongside Joe (Tsai, the owner) and Sean (Marks, the GM)”, confided for example Irving. On the one hand, it’s true, they will be the faces of this organization. Except that there is a hierarchy to respect. What an irony for Sean Marks, past by the Spurs, where Tim Duncan allowed himself to be yelled at violently by Gregg Popovich so that all his teammates walked straight.

A few months back, Marcus Smart, a key man in the Celtics locker room without being a star, publicly attacked Tatum and Brown to push them to drop the ball more. Boston finally finished second in the East by dominating the league since the start of 2022. At the Nets, it’s the opposite: everyone does what they want, especially Irving. No one is called to order. Individuals place themselves above the franchise. And the difference is huge, the proof with this 4-0. A score that reflects a certain logic. Maybe even some justice. And above all a certain satisfaction. Without rejoicing in the misfortune of others, it’s still good for basketball to see Brooklyn break its face.

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