Kyrie Irving needs to embrace normality for the Nets to have a chance to be extraordinary


Kyrie Irving needs to embrace normality for the Nets to have a chance to be extraordinary

Kyrie Irving, one of the most creative scorers of our time, found himself in a rare situation on Monday: he ran out of moves.

The Nets reportedly didn’t want to sign Irving, who missed 123 games in his three years with the team, on a long-term contract. Apparently nobody else did either — except for the Lakers, who didn’t have enough fortunes to interest Brooklyn in a sign-and-trade. So Irving announced on Monday that he would be opting into the final year of his contract with the Nets. tell the athlete‘s Sham Charania: “Normal people make the world run, but those who dare to be different lead us into the future. I’ve made my decision to sign up. I’ll see you in the fall. A11even.”

It’s a bad spin, but it gets to the heart of the dilemma the Nets have to solve with Irving: He thinks he’s different than everyone else.

In a way he is different. Irving’s confidence and creativity are at their best when he’s on the ball. He will try things that nobody else will do. He’ll double-couple in midair and find a tiny gap between defenders to pin an impossible knight. He makes a defender’s best attempts at drawing attacks look stupid with seamless stop-and-pop 8-foot bankers.

For the Nets, problems arise when he (and to a lesser extent Kevin Durant) imposes the stubborn, necessary confidence of a perennial goalscorer in areas that aren’t his fortes. Collaboration is a key component of team-building in the player-empowerment era, but the Nets’ handling of their stars — including fighting to get Irving a long-term deal — feels more like a tug-of-war. Irving’s opt-in represents a necessary recalibration of power, but it’s only a start.

For the Nets to be successful, Irving has to be an excellent goalscorer – and admit that he’s average at the things he’s average at.

But he’s always wanted to try on every hat himself, even the ones that are already taken.

In 2014, LeBron James announced he was returning to Cleveland and eventually changed everything: his destiny, his roster composition, his coach and the role of Irving, then a rising 22-year-old star preparing to unlock the keys of the Cleveland to take over franchise.

Instead, he watched James – who ushered in the player empowerment era in Miami – run things. May in an interview on the i am an athlete Podcast, Irving referenced James’ tongue-in-cheek nickname “LeGM,” saying, “He put the roster together. I wasn’t mad at him. I was like, ‘Okay, bet, so that’s how it goes.’”

Watching James made Irving hungry to lead his own team. In the summer of 2017, he applied for a trade; He ended up with the young Boston Celtics and vowed to take on a leadership role he was ultimately not ready for. Then, before signing with the Nets two years later, he took LeBron’s playbook — talent in exchange for fun perks and control over franchise decisions — to a new level.

But the Nets were far more proven than the historically downtrodden Cavs that LeBron joined, with a respected coaching staff and front office on board when they signed Durant and Irving in 2019.

The duo didn’t have much reason to dictate terms, but they did anyway, leading to subpar basketball results. The most obvious example was the DeAndre Jordan situation. The duo agreed to take less money so Jordan could sign a four-year, $40 million deal — a number Jordan, a lumbering 31-year-old center from a bygone era, was unlikely to command from another competing team . Former Nets coach Kenny Atkinson favored the younger, more defensively agile Jarrett Allen, who started Jordan in just six games in the 2019-20 season. According to ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz, “The starting lineup at center became a source of internal contention.” In March 2020, Atkinson and the Nets parted ways. (Allen was eventually traded to Cleveland as part of the deal that brought James Harden to Brooklyn and was named an All-Star that season.)

The Nets then hired Steve Nash as coach ahead of the 2020-21 season – a decision approved by Irving and Durant. But in October 2020, Irving went to Durant’s podcast, the ETCs, and said: “I don’t really see that we have a head coach. You know what I mean? KD could be a head coach. I could be head coach.” By the 2021-22 season, Irving would be running his own informal drills after Nash was done, according to ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith.

It’s one thing to switch teams to try a new role for yourself. It’s another to clip your colleagues’ wings because you think you can do a better job than them.

Despite missing more games than he played in his three years with the Net – largely due to his refusal to get vaccinated against COVID-19, a decision that also reportedly drove Harden out – and even though the Nets in the Swept through the first round, Irving still seemed uninterested in relinquishing power, saying in April he was “looking forward to co-leading this franchise with him [team owner] yeah [Tsai] and [GM] sean [Marks].” Meanwhile, Marks recently told reporters he would like more commitment from Irving that the Nets are looking for players who “want to be part of something bigger, play team basketball and want to be available.”

In the years since the Nets signed Durant and Irving, the Warriors, Heat, Bucks, Celtics and Suns have built finals runs with balanced teams that mix homegrown fundamentals with acquired talent and find roleplayers whose strengths balance the star’s weaknesses . Jimmy Butler and Giannis Antetokounmpo don’t create space, so do Tyler Herro and Khris Middleton. Draymond Green makes up for the physicality and size that Steph Curry lacks, while Curry makes up for Green’s lack of shooting range. These are the kind of lock-and-key connections that create cohesion and turn a collection of 15 players into a team.

The Nets’ new Big Three could capitalize on a similar yin and yang, with Ben Simmons defending, rebounding, grounding the ball and making plays for Durant and Irving.

Perhaps Irving is buying into a contract year after verifying his real-life worth in the league.

A top-heavy superteam like the Nets doesn’t have the depth to outsource Everyone the dirty work for Simmons. To help the Nets thrive, Irving would be better placed to take a page from LeBron’s tenure in Miami than his return to Cleveland.

The Heat’s Big Three had to turn to the normal things that keep the world going: sacrificing touch, adapting to a new role, rebounding and defending.

They thrived after losing in their first final and Dwyane Wade accepted that he was the second best player on the team. Chris Bosh’s role morphed from traditional 20-and-10 big man to down-to-earth defensive linchpin, while James switched to the 4 often. They took the regular season seriously because it gave them an opportunity to tinker and grow into the best version of themselves. No matter how much talent they had stacked together, they couldn’t avoid this awkward process.

By coaching the coaches and letting the front office make roster moves, the Heat harnessed kinetic forces and brought their work together in perfect harmony.

The nets can be just as extraordinary. But they have to accept the things that make them normal.

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