It was fitting that the Boston Celtics – the team that Irving stopped by three years ago before traveling to Brooklyn to team up with Kevin Durant – were the ones keeping the diet. Fittingly, the first team eliminated this post-season was the top-heavy, incomplete team that now stands in opposition to the league’s latest team-building best practice.
The Nets need a culture reset after their humiliating sweep of the Celtics
Just a year ago, the Nets were the top of Durant’s size 18 Nikes from eliminating the Milwaukee Bucks and advancing to the Eastern Conference finals. After the classic seven-game series in the second round, the Bucks won the NBA title, with Giannis Antetokounmpo rejoicing to prove that an organization diligently built around a patient superstar can thrive in an era where the best players have preferred to merge and turn the game into fantasy basketball.
“It’s easy to go somewhere and win a championship with someone else,” Antetokounmpo said at a celebration last July. “It’s easy. I could go to a super team and just do mine and win a championship. It’s the hard way to do it and we did it.”
Of course, with better luck, Durant could have celebrated the third championship of his career, and the whole superteam phenomenon would remain the standard. But small margins can still be crucial, and suddenly the shift is impossible to ignore.
The top teams this season were all built in the classic way, which means that great emphasis was placed on developing and using all roads to upgrade instead of removing the list to clear space in the salary cap and pursue more free players with all stars . It usually takes a glamor market to apply the super team strategy, but right now there are solid opportunities in the NBA. The eight teams that won at least 50 games during the regular season tell a more diverse story than usual: Phoenix, Miami, Memphis, Boston, Golden State, Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Dallas.
There is very good and very good throughout the NBA right now. There may not be a good team; The sun is closest, but we have to see if they can hold out without Devin Booker for a while. There is certainly no budding dynasty. But the controversy seems more realistic for a larger number of teams, and although the NBA has never needed it to thrive, this level of parity is a refreshing change.
The appetite to create a possible super team does not diminish. However, it is important to check the warning label. The Lakers, who won the championship in 2020, will not regret having bought James and mediated him often. But they are paying a price they had not anticipated now that he is 37 and unable to cover the majority of the ill-considered decisions the team makes. Their problems are not as simple as keeping Davis healthy. They are all-in on a plan that will leave the franchise barren when James finishes in LA, and there is no graceful way to balance short- and long-term roster maintenance anymore.
In Brooklyn, the Nets are three seasons inside the Durant-Irving partnership. They were expecting a slow start because Durant was recovering from Achilles surgery when they picked him up from Golden State three years ago. But over the last two seasons, Durant has been available for only 90 of the possible 154 games in the regular season. Irving, who sat out and chose to resist a New York vaccine mandate this season, has played in 83 out of 154 games during that time.
Brooklyn has repeatedly tried to put together a Big Three. Instead, the Nets have a Big One and a Half. There’s Durant, who carries too much at the age of 33. And there’s Irving, their flashy part-time star and full-time contract.
Maybe the injured Ben Simmons will return next season with a healthy back and a competitive mindset. So much is certain, though: The current situation is significantly worse than three summers ago, when Durant and Irving joined a Brooklyn team that touted a full lineup of role players, including Jarrett Allen, Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert. The three are gone now and the two all-stars are both in their 30s and looked helpless against the Celtics’ defense.
Still, Irving continues to speak as if leading the show. Irving spoke after the sweep that he and Durant “managed this franchise together” with owner Joe Tsai and General Manager Sean Marks. It was either funny or disturbing delusions. Irving was too selfish to take the vaccine when his team desperately needed him on the pitch, but now he wants to be a shot caller.
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Do you remember when Irving talked about a similar collaborative coaching effort with Steve Nash? How are you? Nash will be lucky to survive and come back for a third season.
Irving, who possesses the best handle and layup package of any contrarian in history, should spend the free season managing his narcissism and let the franchise try to fix this mess without interference.
Because of talent, you have to give Brooklyn another chance to get it right. However, there is growing evidence that Nets is a volatile and inadequate mix. No matter how much Durant and Irving like to play together, they have not been good to each other so far.
Now there is a fresh group of teams and a new generation of stars who are not yet obsessed with combining forces and moonlight as general managers. Not surprisingly, their team has balance, depth and more ways to win.
And the 30-year-olds are back to drifting deeper into their final good years in the sport. They are stubborn, suspicious and take on more than their bodies can handle.
Twelve years ago, when James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh came together in Miami, the start of the superteam era seemed like a party. Now, after yet another disappointing ending in Brooklyn, the Nets look tired and a little relieved that the drama is over.
The NBA is too star-studded to declare the death of super teams, but the approach is tired. The message is clear: Build better. Build more comprehensively. Build like Brooklyn at your own risk.