The Nets flew too close to the sun. Not just owner Joe Tsai, who has now seen his third superstar player request a trade in the last year. Not just general manager Sean Marks, who thought he could leverage off-court antics for cheaper contracts. No. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant’s wings burned off just as quickly as Marks and Tsai’s.
With a dream of a superteam so other-worldly that not even Michael Jordan and the Looney Tunes could take them down, the four men responsible for the biggest let down in NBA history have plummeted below the surface of Earth. The Nets, who just weeks ago were on a scorching 18-2 run, now find themselves on the verge of a historic disappointment.
What was once an unstoppable three-headed monster has now turned into Ben Simmons, Nic Claxton and an inevitable trade request from Durant. Don’t get me wrong, the emergence of Claxton this season has been a joy to watch, but this team is the polar opposite of what was envisioned when the team acquired James Harden two years ago.
Simmons is a shell of his former self, averaging career lows in nearly every single category, and has clearly ticked off the team with his lack of availability. Over the next two seasons, the team has over $140 million tied up between Simmons and Joe Harris — who has also become a nightmare on the court. With Houston owning control of every Brooklyn first-round draft pick through 2027, the Nets have dug to a new level of NBA hell — and are here to stay.
So how exactly did the Nets find themselves in an even worse situation than 2015, a feat one thought to be impossible? Though some factors outweigh others, it takes a dedicated group of individuals to tear down a team as good as the Nets quicker than it took to build.
Tsai, who took control of the team the same summer Durant and Irving signed, let his ego get the best of him by not letting this team reach its full potential. For an owner who once said “my only religion is to win games,” Tsai proved that he’d rather stay under the top luxury tax threshold than improve his team. It’s no secret in the NBA that superstars run the league, but Tsai tried to break the mold — and he’s now enduring the consequences of his failure.
Marks has somehow created a worse version of the mess he was hired to fix. He signed an unqualified coach to take control of the most talented roster the league has seen. After it became clear Steve Nash was not the man for the job, Marks continued to hold on to his friend, leading to a horrid start to this season. Not once did Marks improve the roster since Durant signed, and now faces the most daunting rebuild in league history — once again.
There hasn’t been a more controversial player in the league than Irving since he joined the Nets. From an unexplainable seven-game absence, to his anti-vaccination status, to his antisemitic remarks earlier this season, Irving couldn’t stop shooting himself in the foot. Nobody blames the front office for not giving him a maximum contract extension. What team would? Irving’s trade request is not the straw that broke the camel’s back, but rather the straw that digs it even deeper in the grave.
Harden came to Brooklyn to add a ring to his illustrious resume, yet left the team being viewed as the guy who couldn’t deal with adversity — also known as a quitter. Now he’s on his third try for a superteam, although reports indicate he’s already halfway out the door of Philadelphia.
Perhaps the most positive way to describe this era of Nets basketball is unlucky. The Nets were unlucky that Irving and Harden got injured in the 2021 playoffs. The team was unlucky Durant had two MCL injuries, leading to the trade requests of Harden and Irving. But it’s impossible to blame the biggest failure in league history on luck, or the lack thereof, alone.
The Nets can try to salvage the season by trading Irving for Spencer Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith, two players who could compliment Durant, but it will only delay the inevitable. Durant has requested a trade once before, and with Irving gone, it’s not hard to envision him leaving Brooklyn the same way he left Oklahoma City, out to dry in pursuit at a better chance to win.
As the dust settles around the Brooklyn-sized crater this team created, one thing is clear — the Nets were dead before they even got a shot.
Featured photo courtesy of Mwinog2777, Wikipedia.