Kyrie Irving is back from disqualification. Ben Simmons has played three games in a row, which confirms his past achievements. And Kevin Durant is still Kevin Durant, the standout scoring machine averaging over 30 points per game, who is finally free of the head coach he tried to oust over the summer.
Add to that the chance to beat the battered Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday night for a third straight win for the first time this season, and the Brooklyn Nets will exude good cheer.
Don’t fall for any of this. This Nets team has nothing but frustration and drama to offer.
Sure, the Brooklyn Nets’ temporary sense of positivity will no doubt spread if Simmons puts on another good game upon his return to Philadelphia. Or if Irving, who played just 26 minutes after returning from an eight-game suspension for promoting an anti-Semitic video, delivered a breakthrough game.
Don’t get involved.
The illusion may be stronger, but the farce remains the same: this talented band is a ticking time bomb, not a title contender. All of them are dramatic and devoid of depth. They sparkle with no real chance for bling.
Of course, as with everything in sports, they can be frustrating. The Durant-Irving-Simmons trifecta will come together against all odds and see a regular season win parade give way to a playoff worthy of all the hype that has risen in Brooklyn since Kyrie and KD teamed up.
But history, common sense, and multiple sources from the NBA leagues say the same thing is more common: drama, a contender for victory, and an inevitable grotesque crisis that reminds us of who they were all along.
Star power is essential to compete in the championship, but chemistry is the secret sauce that must accompany it. That’s one of the reasons the Golden State Warriors have dominated year after year, with or without Kevin Durant: the dressing room is full of real leaders, real faith, and real unity—or at least it was until Draymond Green hit by teammate Jordan Poole earlier this season.
This recent Los Angeles Lakers team shows the other side of the coin – talent without unity can turn into recriminations without hope.
But LeBron James, Russell Westbrook and Anthony Davis is a TED Talk about camaraderie and chemistry compared to this Nets team.
Start with Irving, whose basketball presence in Brooklyn has so far failed to live up to expectations. Irving is incredibly talented. But aside from playing with LeBron in LeBron’s prime — which is a big star — Irving has been a perpetual minus for just about every team he’s been on. Literally.
The Brooklyn Nets are 3-6 with their star point guard this season. and 5-3 without it.
This may sound like a statistical anomaly pulled from a stupidly small sample size, but dig a little deeper. Look at the facts and the lack of impact he had in his time away from LeBron.
In the six seasons, including this one, since Kyrie Irving broke out of the Cleveland Cavaliers, his team has been better, winning percentage with him on the floor than without him in just one season.
And that was five years ago, in his first season in Boston.
Kairi’s cold-hard lineups in the regular season with and without him are astounding:
So, here are the results of the previous five seasons: once he improved his team. There was another one, in terms of win percentage, which was a draw. And then there were three in which he was the albatross to success.
Bad times have become more frequent lately. For three of the last four seasons, Kairiye’s presence on the court has reduced his squad to under 0,500. It’s a selection of 83 games spanning three seasons—a full regular season, in fact—in which Kyrie turns a good team into a loser.
So no, Kairi’s drama, the best and ugliest incarnation of the latest suicide saga, is not the price of his greatness. It is an understanding of the price his supposed greatness inflicts on his teams.
And only Kirie.
Take Simmons, for example, who – and it’s impossible to put it kindly – inspires the least amount of confidence at critical moments of any player, perhaps in NBA history. A missed playoff dunk and then-head coach Doc Rivers throwing him under a bus afterward might well have brought him down.
Yes, he has played well the last few games and we should all hope that he succeeds and proves doubters like me wrong. No player deserves to have their career ruined by the combination of physical and mental trauma that brought them to this point. But life isn’t fair, as others like Markelle Fultz can attest.
If much of your plan for NBA success relies on Ben Simmons — no less in the big games when the pressure builds and his memories and weaknesses need to be felt 1,000 times stronger — that plan is in big trouble.
The man who has been asked to spearhead this feast of annoyance is Jacques Vaughn, who has three things working against him: His career record is 71-165. He never won more than 23 games in one season. And the fact that he was Durant’s apparent second choice after the Nets refused to hire disqualified Boston Celtics head coach Ime Udoka.
This is not a shot at Vaughn. It may be difficult for a Nobel Peace Prize winner to unite this group. But it’s hard to imagine a second coach, apparently backed by a single superstar, finding the secret to this unsettling cocktail of resentment, stress, and frustration.
Intervening in all this pressure is Duran, whose talents are extreme even by historical standards. But in the NBA, we tend to look at the stars, get blinded by what we see in them, and find it hard to focus on the important details.
As is the case with this Nets team as a whole, Durant is a huge talent with no track record – other than working with a busy Warriors – winning NBA championships. It’s hard to see his greatness, but Duran’s star shone so brightly that we overlooked his lack of resume away from Stephen Curry & Co., a LeBron-like winner.
If last year’s Golden State Warriors run didn’t convince people of it, then it’s hard to imagine it will, but: Curry has always been the best and most important player on these Warriors teams. This has always made KD the second best player on the two championship teams KD has played on.
Do you know what it refutes? The win without Curry, just as Curry’s win without Durant, proved his worth as a champion, Finals MVP, and great man to lead the team all the way.
Duran never did. And with this team of Nets — with Kyrie Irving as a teammate, with Ben Simmons as a key link to be called up in tense moments — he never will be.