One of the most star-studded teams in the Eastern Conference appears on the verge of even more drama.
The Brooklyn Nets capped off a remarkably underwhelming season with a No. 7 seed and a quick sweep at the hands of the Boston Celtics in the first round. As Kevin Durant struggled to stay healthy – only playing 55 games this regular season – Kyrie Irving and James Harden did extremely little to keep the organization competitive.
Irving was held to just 29 regular-season games due to a decision not to get vaccinated. As for Harden, he eventually wiggled his way out of his second team in two seasons, paving the path for the blockbuster trade that sent him to the Philadelphia 76ers in exchange for fellow disgruntled All-Star Ben Simmons.
While both Irving and Simmons are viewed as two extremely talented individuals, a slew of questions surround the future of both. Simmons hasn’t played basketball since the 2020-2021 playoffs and recently underwent back surgery. As for Irving, he could technically choose to leave the organization this summer as a free agent, which only feels more possible when we consider the recent words from the New York Daily News’ Kristian Winfield.
“This is why the Nets’ championship hopes hinge on an amicable solution with Irving, whose personal decision not to get vaccinated and unpredictable injury history have left the Nets hesitant, and now, according to a source familiar with the Nets’ thought process, outright unwilling to give him a long-term extension.”
There is no doubt an Irving departure would significantly decrease the talent level of the Nets’ roster. However, no one can blame Brooklyn for their hesitancy to hand the point guard a long-term deal. The most games Irving has played over the last five seasons is 67 (2018-19), and he has now appeared in less than 30 games in two of the previous three seasons. Health is one concern, but uneasiness about whether or not he truly prioritizes staying on the court is entirely another.
All of this has also – unsurprisingly – led to questions about where Kevin Durant might stand. Winfield shared that the top talent has not spoken with the front office since the Nets season came to a swift end:
If Irving leaves outright as a free agent this summer, disgruntled by the Nets’ hardball stance on his availability, Brooklyn doesn’t have the cap space to replace him with a star, which means Durant, entering Year 16, could be playing with a questionable Ben Simmons (back surgery) and a roster full of role players.
That’s a first-round exit at best — if Durant stays to see it, and according to multiple sources, Durant and the Nets front office have not spoken since they were swept out of the first round.
Sooooo … wow.
While this isn’t suggesting that Durant is prepared to push himself out of Brooklyn if Irving doesn’t re-sign, it’s certainly not hard to envision that outcome. He first chose that destination under the notion that he and Irving would be the NBA’s next great dynamic duo. Irving’s departure would leave him with a questionable Ben Simmons and very few assets to continue building out a true contender. And, turning 34 years old before next season, Durant isn’t getting any younger.
Of course, this will be a big-time story for every team around the league to follow, especially those in the East. Brooklyn was expected to be a powerhouse for years to come, and they now appear to be more vulnerable than ever before. Not to mention, if Irving were to leave, a whole can of worms could open up in regards to Durant’s fate and other big roster changes. Keep it on your radar.
Don’t say it, don’t say it, don’t say it, don’t say it … DURANT TO THE BULLS, BABY!