The past three seasons have been unsuccessful for the Brooklyn Nets.
Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant joined the Nets in 2019 and James Harden in 2021 with the idea that they would fight for the championship.
That did not happen.
The Nets have two first-round losses and a second-round elimination.
Harden is no longer on the team. Duran requested an exchange. And this unlikely Irving to play another game for the Netswho are left to pick up the pieces left over from the explosion that sets the organization back five seasons and exposes problems for the system that NBA owners may try to fix in the next collective bargaining agreement.
Irving and Duran played a total of 57 games together during the three seasons Durant missed the 2019–20 season while recovering from an Achilles rupture suffered in the 2019 Finals while with Golden State.
Irving played in just 46% of Brooklyn’s games over three seasons for a variety of reasons, including personal, injury, and his COVID-19 vaccine refusal, disqualifying him from most home games due to New York. Mandate of the City of York.
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Harden, who was acquired in January 2021, got tired of the Nets after a year. He wanted to leave with one-plus seasons left on his contract, and fulfilled his wish by going to Philadelphia for another player, Ben Simmons, who wanted to get out of his situation with the Sixers with four seasons left on his contract.
Last offseason, Durant signed a four-year, $194.2 million extension with Brooklyn, with the extension’s first year starting in 2022-23. So even before Duran has played even one game in this extension, he wants to leave.
It’s easy to see why this bothers NBA owners.
Yes, teams have the ability to trade most players at any time, and yes, player empowerment has been around for a while, as NBA Commissioner Adam Silver pointed out at All-Star Weekend in February.
“I think you are dealing with situations where you have players with literally unique skills on the planet and that will always give them an advantage and you have teams with an advantage,” Silver said. “There may be tools we can come up with to create stronger incentives for players to abide by these agreements. But I don’t think there’s some kind of silver bullet here that we’re going to use in the collective to fix this issue. These are the people.”
Silver here goes on a fine line. He is the players commissioner and his relationship with the players has helped improve the game. He listens to their opinion. But he also works for the owners, a competitive group of people trying to win a championship.
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“As the commissioner of this league, we want our players to be happy,” he said. “We want them to be in situations where they think they can be the most productive. At the same time, we want the league to be organised, and like so many other things in life, we need to find the right balance.”
It has been speculated that the owners may want a refund the sooner a player completes their contract and a trade request is granted. But who knows if the owners will be able to impose sufficient containment measures on players who sign contracts worth $200 million.
Nets owner Joe Tsai understands the ever-changing nature of the league and where players want to play. But when Durant signed that extension, there was a reasonable expectation that he would play at least one season on his contract, even in an era of enhanced player options.
(The Nets aren’t perfect either. They let Irving down and went on the fast track to success, and that has consequences.)
There is also long-term collateral damage. Brooklyn lost a trusted coach in Kenny Atkinson, who made headway in rebuilding Brooklyn before Irving and Durant decided they needed a new coach. Steve Nash, who replaced Atkinson, sabotaged his first foray into coaching in two seasons.
The Nets traded first-round draft picks to create a big three of Durant, Irving, and Harden, and to date, they have no first-round picks in 2024 and 2026, and forfeited the most profitable of their picks in the 2023 draft. 2025 and 2027 when exchanging peaks.
Of course they’ll get back first-round picks in the Durant and Irving trades if that’s the case.
But it brings the Nets back to where they were around 2017, when they had young players and were trying to build strength with draft picks, seasoned free agent signings, and veterans who set the direction.
Brooklyn General Manager Sean Marks took over in 2016 and is starting over 6.5 years later.
The Nets can’t screw things up again.
Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Nets plans for Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving fall apart