If you watched Brooklyn’s season-opener on Tuesday, your expectations for the Nets are probably sky-high.
Irving didn’t want to make any bold proclamations about the Nets after opening night, but he also didn’t shy away from stating Brooklyn’s ultimate goal.
“We’re going to enjoy this regular season game to game. But we ultimately know what the goal is after these 72 games -- and that’s 16 wins,” he said, referring to the number of postseason wins needed to capture a title.
If healthy, there’s no reason to think Steve Nash’s club won’t be well-positioned to make an NBA Finals run.
The Nets have two of the top players in the league and remarkable depth. Sure, there are questions about health, defense and Nash’s lack of experience. But if their performance on Tuesday against a subpar Warriors team was any indication, this Nets team is going to win a lot of games this season.
About an hour after the game ended, Irving provided more evidence that the Nets – health permitting – are on the verge of a dominant season.
The 10-year veteran talked about eschewing "hero ball" and the pursuit of individual numbers at this point in his career.
“It’s been a long journey to get here and to be able to master this craft and to learn that it’s not just about hero basketball, it’s about how great the team is,” Irving said. I think I got caught up in that in my career a few times in just trying to play hero basketball. Where the team success is really going to dictate how great you are as an individual and how great you play your role. Being here in this present moment, I’m enjoying that and I’m embracing that”
Irving was asked if there was a particular moment that led to the shift in his mindset.
“I think it’s just the right time, right situation, right environment,” he said after his first regular season game with Durant in Brooklyn. “To explain that, as a young player, you think that scoring a bunch of points, doing a bunch of things, getting individual accolades is great.
And I definitely was going after those things. Now I really don’t care for any of those individual accolades or goals. It really doesn’t bother me. I know I’m validated culturally and that’s all that matters. I don’t need an all NBA. I don’t need a MVP, I just want a championship with a great team that I can look back on history and say we did it our way and we had fun doing it.”
Some questions from analysts and fans about this Nets team had to do with the fit between Irving/Durant and the rest of the Nets. Some of the questions emanated from the idea that Irving needed the ball in his hand – or needed to score at a certain level – for the whole Nets ecosystem to run well.
But if Irving, as he said Tuesday, isn’t worried about individual numbers/awards and has prioritized team success over everything else, that bodes well for Brooklyn.
The one caveat to everything for the Nets – and several other teams around the NBA – is this: what’s going to happen with James Harden in Houston?
The Nets, Sixers and other teams will be linked to possible trades for Harden until the superstar is dealt. If Brooklyn acquires Harden, it obviously changes the entire complexion of the team.
If Philadelphia acquires Harden, it changes the complexion of one of the teams competing with Brooklyn for a trip to the Finals.
Prior to the start of training camp, sources confirmed that the Rockets were prepared to deal with all of the uncomfortable situations that came with keeping Harden and Russell Westbrook on the roster. ESPN first reported the Rockets’ thinking at the time.
Westbrook has since been dealt to Washington. Harden, and all of the awkward elements that come with a disgruntled star, is still in Houston. The Rockets don’t have a hard deadline for a Harden trade. He’s under contract for the next three seasons. But some Rockets people said during the preseason that they didn’t expect Harden to be in town for much longer, suggesting Harden’s efforts to force his way out of Houston were working. So the Harden situation continues to be something to keep an eye on with the 2020-21 season underway.