The Brooklyn Nets’ 2021-22 campaign has to go down as one of the most disappointing in the history of the franchise, and in the NBA as a whole.
A season that started with Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden tipped to cruise to the championship ended in them being swept in the first round of the playoffs. Right now, Nets fans looking for the best way to use their New Jersey sportsbook bonuses will be wondering whether betting on their team for the 2022-23 season is a good idea.
Few of the leading cast can escape their share of the blame, though much of it has been directed at Kyrie Irving. The man who essentially built the All-Star lineup in Brooklyn, by convincing both Durant and Harden to join him, opted out of most of the season due to his refusal to receive the Covid-19 vaccine. While that may have been a valid personal decision, it was difficult not to interpret it as selfish in the context of this Nets squad, leaving Durant to hold down the fort.
Throw in the inevitable health protocol absences and injuries, the departure of a disgruntled Harden and the arrival of an apparently injured Ben Simmons, who was not able to take part in any of the second half of the Nets’ season, and you had a recipe for disaster. This is what transpired in the playoffs, as the NBA once again demonstrated that there is no easy road to the finals. Nets fans and everyone at the franchise will be pondering where Brooklyn will go from here.
The Kyrie and KD conundrum
Durant and Irving’s friendship is crucial to this team’s success and their prospects of winning the championship. The good news for Nets fans is that Durant is under contract for a long time and is fully committed to the team. Irving is not in the same boat – he has a player option that he might refuse, although this looks unlikely.
The bigger problem lies with his attitude. He has spoken about working with Durant and general manager Sean Marks to build a championship-winning team. But that will, presumably, require him to turn up to work on a regular basis, something that has not been his modus operandi so far.
A better option would be for Durant to assert himself, even if it upsets his friend. He is the best player on the roster and should be the leader. The consequences of allowing Irving to remain the de-facto leader of the franchise have been obvious. The start of any Nets revival should be a hard conversation between the two, in which Durant does the talking and Irving the listening.
Figuring out Ben Simmons
Ben Simmons has probably spent all of his credit with NBA fans and commentators. From last summer’s footage of him shooting baskets – something he was noticeably hesitant to do while on the court last season – to the eye-catching attire he displayed on the Nets bench while watching his new teammates crash out of the playoffs, his decision-making has been awful.
At the same time, there can still be room for understanding. It is entirely possible that a young man in the public eye has found the public scrutiny of a fault in his game to be overbearing, resulting in a breakdown in both his self-confidence and his whole state of mind. Although admitting this would be tough, it would win him widespread sympathy.
For the Nets, the prize of a rejuvenated Simmons would be the return of one of the game’s top defensive players. To get there, the Nets will have to make a concerted effort to help him, though that may hinge on Simmons first being honest with himself.
Is Steve Nash the man?
When Irving suggested that Boston didn’t need a coach at all, alarm bells started ringing. The fear was that Steve Nash, in his first-ever coaching position, would not have the necessary authority to lead the team, or for that matter, the tactical understanding to take the Nets to the championship.
In the circumstances, although his tactical naivety was on display in the playoffs, Nash has earned some credit for the way that he has handled a rollercoaster of a season, ensuring that the team at least got to the playoffs, while his 92-62 record is solid. Given the potential upheaval at the Barclay Center this summer, Nash is likely to get more time to prove himself, but the clock will be ticking when the season gets under way in the fall.