The 2020-21 NBA season is almost upon us, but Hot Take SZN is here, and at the end of another eventful offseason we will see how close to the sun we can fly and still stand the swelter of these viewpoints.
There is a single path to championship contention for the Brooklyn Nets: Kevin Durant, who has not played a game since rupturing his right Achilles tendon in Game 5 of the 2019 NBA Finals, plays to his peak form.
But there is an equally dominant force standing in Brooklyn’s way: chemistry. Mark my words, the Nets will be the Los Angeles Clippers of this season, a contender turned pretender by way of internal combustion.
Kyrie Irving has a doctorate in destruction of locker rooms. Over the past four years, he has given the silent treatment to Cleveland Cavaliers teammates, excoriated veterans and rising stars alike before reneging on a promise to re-sign with the Boston Celtics and thrown a number of his current teammates under the bus.
“It’s glaring, in terms of some of the pieces that we need in order to be successful at the next level,” Irving said in January, two weeks before his season-ending shoulder surgery. “I’m going to continue to reiterate it. We’re doing the best we can with the guys we have in the locker room now, and we’ll worry about the other stuff, in terms of moving pieces and everything else, as an organization down the line in the summer. ...
“Collectively, I feel like we have great pieces,” he added, “but it’s pretty glaring we need one more piece or two more pieces that will complement myself, KD, DJ, GT, Spence, Caris, and we’ll see how that evolves.”
That list of Irving’s perceived Nets core — Durant, DeAndre Jordan, Garrett Temple, Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert — left out rotational mainstays Joe Harris, Taurean Prince and Jarrett Allen. Absentmindedness or not, Irving’s larger point lingers. Brooklyn returned everyone from that core, save for Temple, the beloved teammate whose 28 minutes a night on the wing will be replaced by incoming ex-Clipper Landry Shamet.
That cannot be the solution to what Irving described as a “glaring” absence of a piece or pieces to a title contender. Perhaps that is why Durant has reportedly discussed with James Harden the possibility of the Nets trading a package of his teammates and draft picks for the frustrated Houston Rockets superstar.
Durant denied that report, but this is indicative of the media circus that follows him and Irving, fair or unfair. They both have a history of fostering dysfunction behind the scenes, only to chastise the media for shedding light on that dysfunction. Case in point: Following a speculative videotaped discussion of free agency at 2019 All-Star Weekend, Durant later conceded that it was not the “bulls---” Irving claimed it was.
I am not of the belief that two superstars who feed into the NBA’s histrionics with their own disdain for it will cancel each other out in a chemistry experiment set in the league’s largest media market, regardless of how close their friendship is. The fun has already begun, with Irving opting out of his first media availability this season, leaving his teammates to answer for him. And the drama in Brooklyn may not be limited to them.
The Nets also signed Jordan, the 32-year-old former All-Star center, to a hefty four-year, $40 million contract in the 2019 offseason, seemingly as part of the recruitment effort to land his friends Durant and Irving. It was a strange move personnel-wise, considering Brooklyn already had Allen — a solid 22-year-old rim protector — on his rookie contract. Their battle for minutes could create some friction between the younger guard who led the Nets to the playoffs the last two years and the veteran stars taking over.
Same goes for LeVert and Dinwiddie. The former has been a primary option in the playoffs the past two years, using more than a quarter of Brooklyn’s possessions, mostly as a pick-and-roll creator. His role will be severely diminished alongside two ball-dominant superstars, and his 31.6% mark on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers last season raises questions about how much value he brings as a tertiary option.
LeVert is just beginning a three-year, $52 million extension, but Dinwiddie — another playmaker who is used to having the ball in his hands — is entering a contract year. Based on his attempts to transform his current deal into a publicly traded financial commodity, it is safe to assume Dinwiddie wants to maximize his next contract. He, too, will be handed a diminished role as a 27-year-old about to enter his prime earning years.
It is not unlike the natural friction Boston faced after Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown led the Celtics to the 2018 Eastern Conference finals, only to cede touches when Irving and Gordon Hayward returned from injury the following year. It happens all the time, most recently with the Clippers, who added Kawhi Leonard and Paul George to a roster that had an established identity as a more communal playoff team on the rise.
Now ask yourself: Are Durant and Irving the superstars you expect to bridge inherent chemistry divides?
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