I don’t live by many rules but this is one of them: if you have to live and die by something you only worked on for 12 per cent of your training, things might not work out… And that’s where we as NBA fans are sitting.
The Garden of Eden was beautiful but short lived in the heart of Brooklyn.
But the contamination of the former paradise started and ended with the arrival of Kyrie Irving.
In their first two games together as Nets, James Harden and Kevin Durant scored or assisted on 84 per cent of the team’s total points, leading to wins against the Orlando Magic and the Milwaukee Bucks.
The duo were clicking on a level that I have never seen Harden click with any star teammate before, both racking up the stat sheet almost seamlessly. In fact with all the high fives, flashy passes and smiles – and admittedly defensive lapses – the Nets looked like an All Star team.
But in the next game, the Nets let the 29th worst offence in the league – the Cleveland Cavaliers – score 147 points in a tight loss.
So what happened? Well, Irving happened.
He was returning from his unexcused absence, after leaving his new head coach blind. His coach was expecting him to play that night.
His new teammates were only experiencing their first ‘wait, what did Irving do?’ teammate moment. Durant was forced to play in back to backs because of the shortened season and the Nets’ .500 record.
After finally coming back, the paradise was flipped on its head.
Any fan that watched the first two games could sense the dark, cloudy feeling from his arrival, especially in Harden, who at halftime of the Cavaliers game had only taken a few shots and was looking like a lost rookie on offence.
This is supposed to be the team’s best passer and ball handler, maybe even the best in the league. Yet it was Irving who took twice as many shots as the beard.
Even Bruce Brown, the team’s best guard defender – who should have been guarding Collin Sexton – played just over seven minutes.
My theory is that Steve Nash knew if he benched Irving for a more tactical specialist, especially down the stretch, Irving would be, well, Irving.
This isn’t speculation that Irving was the cause for not all but most of this demise, because there is evidence of him doing this in nearly every season of his stardom.
Irving has never maximised a team’s chances of winning since requesting a trade to branch off from LeBron James all the way back in 2017.
Boston’s first year was a great example as the team overachieved without Irving in the conference finals, taking it to seven games. Irving’s second go around was filled with him trashing the coach and young teammates to the media, ruining the team’s chemistry and visibly giving up on his team in that final Bucks series.
Even after joining a new Nets team, while not even playing more than 20 games because of injuries, Irving beefed with the media all year, calling the industry pawns. But that absence from playing must have really riled Irving’s need to defy as he has already put on one hell of a spectacle just a few weeks into the season.
I’m just waiting for someone to show me the track record of talented All NBA level players who did nothing but inexplicably degenerate or stagnate team after team for years – then like a flip of a switch, become a dependable selfless player, with a team-first attitude.
Imagine if this was a talented yet injury-riddled player, constantly returning for snippets of the season just to find himself back on the sidelines with a new cast, bandage or crutch. It would not matter if he was the best locker-room guy in the league – if you have not contributed to a team’s success admirably while taking a fat chunk of the salary, fans would relish the day that player was sent packing his bags.
Irving should be looked at the same way. He is an undeniably talented player who for personality or attitude reasons is just not going to be the uplifting point guard who is a breeze to play with and coach.
Instead he will be the rotten fruit, dragging a long season even longer with snide remarks, making headlines that championship-driven teams just don’t make, and slowly but surely inhibiting the team to reach its maximum potential.