I watched the Nets play in Brooklyn last week, and a Boston Celtics home game broke out.
“M-V-P, M-V-P, M-V-P!” rang the chants, aimed not at considered one of the Nets but at Jayson Tatum, Boston’s feather-touch, do-it-all forward, as he toed the free-throw line within the fourth quarter of what became a runaway victory for his team.
This was one of the crucial significant rivalry tests of the N.B.A. season, a battle between two teams vying for one of the best record within the Eastern Conference. It was also the primary of a spate of games the Nets would play without Kevin Durant. The team’s best player, and the core of the offense, Durant sprained his left knee earlier within the week and stands to spend not less than two weeks recovering.
In other words, it was the kind of game that reveals a team’s DNA.
With much within the balance, the Nets mounted only a tepid response, fading late and losing, 109-98. That could be why the fans at Barclays Center seemed muted, why they allowed a rival like Boston to roll into town and treat the sector like a private penthouse. The team rolled over for the Oklahoma City Thunder at home Sunday night, dropping back to 4 games behind the Celtics within the East.
High hopes have stuck to this Nets team because the summer of 2019, when Kyrie Irving signed on to be the franchise’s floor general and promised to influence Durant, the 2014 league M.V.P., to hitch him. Each stars had won N.B.A. championships within the not-so-distant past. It stood to reason that Brooklyn would turn into a perennial contender.
The Nets are again an elite team this season. Once they are clicking, as they were in December, they’re able to winning a dozen straight games on the strength of hot shooting and stern defense.
So why isn’t it more joyful and exciting to observe them?
Brooklyn is the N.B.A.’s most enigmatic team — awkward to root for, understand, work out and imagine in. Over the past several seasons and into the present one, the high hopes for what the Nets could turn into have consistently been dashed by soap opera controversies.
“Should you love the Nets, you’ve got to deal with the skill of the players,” one fan told me through the game. “It’s all in regards to the skills of this team. That’s why you watch. Because their big stars all have, how do I say this, well, they’ve some baggage.”
For the uninitiated, here’s a fast rundown of the plot twists.
Steve Nash was hired as head coach in 2020 despite having no coaching experience. His first 12 months went well enough: The Nets were a Durant 3-pointer away from making the Eastern Conference finals.
The promise of this team never quite outpaces the spectacle. The 2018 league M.V.P., James Harden, arrived in 2021 considering he would complement Durant and Irving perfectly. Break out the Champagne, N.B.A. titles here we come.
But Harden beefed with Irving, partly because Irving — who seems to have never met a conspiracy theory he didn’t wish to bear hug — refused to get vaccinated for the coronavirus because the pandemic raged. That meant Irving couldn’t play home games during a period when Recent York demanded immunization as a prerequisite for work.
So the Nets shipped Harden to Philadelphia midway through last season. “There was no structure” in Brooklyn, Harden said, offering a parting shot. “And even superstars, they need structure.”
He continued pulling back the curtain. “Internally, things weren’t what I expected once I was attempting to get traded there,” he said.
In trading for Harden, the Nets received Ben Simmons, a player talented enough to have once been viewed as Magic Johnson Lite.
Problem is, Simmons arrived in Brooklyn so saddled by injury and self-doubt that he had turn into allergic to considered one of basketball’s most essential and elementary skills: shooting the basketball.
Nash’s team stumbled through last season, dogged by injuries, a teamwide Covid outbreak and, yes, more drama, only to be swept ignobly by the Celtics in the primary round of the playoffs. Durant peppered the team with a requirement: Fire Nash, or trade me. (He later relented.)
When the Nets began this season losing five of their first seven games, Nash was let go.
I haven’t even detailed Irving’s self-inflicted wounds. They’re enough to fill a book. To maintain from dragging on, I’ll say that this season might have been a redemption tour until he began it by publicly backing a holocaust-denying documentary that blamed Jews for lots of the world’s woes.
No, the Nets don’t leave you with the nice and cozy and fuzzies — not in the best way, for instance, that Golden State, fronted by Stephen Curry, or the Denver Nuggets, led by Nikola Jokic, do. However the Nets’ stars remain popular, not less than by one nonscientific measure. Durant and Irving are among the many league’s vote leaders for this 12 months’s All-Star Game.
“It’s all in regards to the skills” seems to have turn into a crucial mantra for the numerous fans willing to look past all of this team’s travails.
What’s going to the Nets’ future be? How can anyone ensure when, despite all that skill, the team stays such a piece in progress?
Simmons is 26, still able to becoming the superstar he was billed as when he was drafted No. 1 overall in 2016. He put up quite a stat line against Boston: 13 assists and nine rebounds, the kind of play vital to Brooklyn with Durant out.
But there have been times when Simmons was near the basket and attempted awkward layups. Clang. He tried again. Clank.
All game, Simmons didn’t rating a single point. As he sat on the bench within the fourth quarter, the Nets already having given in, Celtics fans filled Barclays Center with their loudest roars.
Within the news conference after the sport, I asked him: What is that this team’s identity?
I desired to know if the Nets had a trademark trait they might depend on, something not only excellent but sustainable within the crunch. All championship teams contain such a top quality; in the event you ask me, all deeply embraceable teams do, too.
Simmons leaned back, shook his head as if bewildered and paused for a beat.
“We’re still trying to offer ourselves an identity,” he said. “So perhaps at the top of the 12 months, I provides you with that answer.”
Basketball fans have been waiting long enough.