Because the Nets’ disappointing season reached its end after they were swept by the Boston Celtics in the primary round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, Kyrie Irving made clear that he was committed to the Nets for the long run.
But after a season by which Irving played only 29 of the 82 regular season games due to his refusal to comply with a neighborhood vaccine ordinance, do the Nets want him back?
That query loomed over the team’s season-ending news conference on Wednesday held by General Manager Sean Marks and Coach Steve Nash. While Marks was reluctant to offer a transparent answer, that he didn’t immediately say “yes” spoke nearly as clearly as anything he could have said. The Nets haven’t decided yet if Irving can and ought to be a part of their future.
“I feel we all know what we’re searching for,” Marks said. “We’re searching for guys that wish to are available in here and be a part of something greater than themselves, play selfless, play team basketball, and be available. That goes not just for Kyrie but for everyone here.”
That theme of availability continued throughout Marks’ remarks, and has been difficult for the Nets’ star players.
Irving and Kevin Durant signed with Brooklyn to great fanfare in 2019, however the Nets have yet to reap the advantages of adding two multiple-time All-Stars who had each won championships by themselves. Durant missed all the 2019-20 season while recovering from an Achilles’ tendon injury he sustained within the 2019 finals with Golden State.
Last season, they added James Harden through a trade with Houston, creating what was purported to be a formidable lineup. They lost to Milwaukee within the Eastern Conference semifinals last season despite 48 points in Game 7 from Durant, who hit a buzzer-beating 2-pointer to tie the sport in regulation. His toe was on the 3-point arc — the shot was mere millimeters from being a game-winner.
Relatively than constructing on that near miss, the Nets went backward this season.
Irving declined to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, which meant he wouldn’t find a way to play in games in Brooklyn or at Madison Square Garden for many of the season. The Nets initially decided they didn’t desire a part-time player, and said Irving wouldn’t play until he was eligible for all of their games. They abruptly modified course in January and Irving began exclusively playing in road games outside Recent York and Toronto.
On Wednesday afternoon, Marks declined to reconsider that call, while again stressing the importance of a player’s availability.
“When you’ve got a player of Kyrie’s caliber, you are trying and determine: How can we get him in the combination and the way long can we get him in the combination for?” Marks said. “Since the team was built around saying, ‘Well, Kyrie and Kevin are going to be available.’”
Irving’s absences made the Nets’ margins that much slimmer. Any time Durant or Harden were injured, that meant the team was down two starters as an alternative of only one. As they handled coronavirus-related absences, like many teams did, they’d fewer players on whom to rely.
“There have been a wide range of teams on the market and the teams which are still playing to at the present time, they might not have had quite the extent of the justifications that we will give you, but they’d to navigate Covid as well, they’d to navigate injuries,” Marks said. “And if I’m going to be brutally honest, they navigated it higher than we did.”
Harden uninterested in Irving’s absences and the challenges they posed. He was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers, who play in Game 6 of their second-round series against the Miami Heat on Thursday night.
Within the trade, the Nets acquired Ben Simmons, who didn’t play a game for them. Simmons had back surgery on May 5 after magnetic resonance imaging showed a “herniation had expanded,” Marks said.
In talking in regards to the team’s big stars, Marks mostly spoke of Durant alone. He said Durant was a draw for other players across the league — that individuals desired to play for him. He said Durant is the team’s best player development coach. He talked of wanting to involve Durant in personnel decisions, without asking him to really make those decisions.
“People think player empowerment means you only allow them to do whatever they wish to do,” Marks said. “That wasn’t the case when Steve was a player. That wasn’t the case once I was a player on any of the teams we’ve been on. That’s not the case here. I feel involving players on key decisions at particular points within the season is the correct approach to do it. There’s nothing worse than having players surprised by something.”
Whether Irving returns to the team just isn’t just within the Nets’ hands. He has a player option for next season value $36.5 million and can be eligible for an extension value $200 million over five years. Should he decline his player option, he would turn out to be an unrestricted free agent.
He showed his dynamism on the court in several games this season, scoring 50 points against the Charlotte Hornets in March after which 60 every week later against the Orlando Magic.
But what use is that explosiveness if he isn’t playing?
“I feel there’s been far an excessive amount of debate, discussion, scuttlebutt — whatever you would like to call it — about distractions, and about things that basically are outside of basketball,” Marks said. “Whereas we’d wish to concentrate on doing a number of the things that got us here in the primary place.”
Marks made that comment in his opening remarks during Wednesday’s news conference, before anyone had asked him about Irving.
It fit, though, with the message he appeared to be sending throughout his news conference. It was a message to Irving about committing in a possible way, not only contractually, to a team that would have used more of him this season.