The past three seasons have been a debacle for the Brooklyn Nets.
Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant joined the Nets in 2019 — and James Harden in 2021 — with the idea that they would vie for championships.
This does not happen.
The Nets have two first-round losses and one second-round outing to prove it.
Harden is no longer with the team. Durant asked for a trade. And Irving is unlikely to play another game for the Nets, who must pick up the pieces left behind by an implosion that sets the organization back five seasons and exposes problems in the system that NBA owners may be trying to fix. in the next collective agreement.
Irving and Durant played just 57 games together over three seasons, with Durant missing 2019-20 as he recovered from a ruptured Achilles suffered in the 2019 Finals when he was with Golden State.
Irving has played in just 46% of Brooklyn’s games in three seasons for a variety of reasons, including personal reasons, injuries and his refusal to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, which made him ineligible to play in the majority of games at home due to New York City Warrant.
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Harden, who was acquired in January 2021, had grown tired of the Nets after a year. He wanted out with more than one season left on his contract and got his wish, going to Philadelphia for another player, Ben Simmons, who wanted out of his situation with the Sixers with four seasons left on his contract.
Last offseason, Durant signed a four-year, $194.2 million extension with Brooklyn, with the first year of that extension beginning in 2022-23. So before Durant has even played a game in this expansion, he wants out.
It’s easy to see why this bothers NBA owners.
Yes, teams have the ability to trade most players at any time, and yes, player empowerment has been around for a while, as NBA commissioner Adam Silver noted during All-Star Weekend. in February.
“I think you’re dealing with situations where you have players with literally one skill on the planet, and that will always give them leverage, and you have teams with leverage,” Silver said. “There may be tools that we can think of to create stronger incentives for players to comply with these agreements. But I don’t think there’s some kind of silver bullet here that we’re going to get into negotiating. collective and say now we’ve solved this problem. They are human beings.
Silver walks a fine line here. He is a player commissioner and his relationship with the players has helped improve the game. He listens to their input. But he also works for the owners, a competitive group of individuals trying to win a championship.
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“As commissioners of this league, we want our players to be happy,” he said. “We want them to be in situations where they think they can be more productive. At the same time, we want to run an orderly league, and so like many things in life, we have to find the appropriate balance. the low.”
It has been suggested that the owners may want some money back the sooner a player is in their contract and a trade request is honored. But who knows if the owners could pass a sufficient deterrent to players signing $200 million deals.
Nets owner Joe Tsai understands the ever-changing nature of the league and where players want to play. But when Durant signed that extension, he was reasonably expected to play at least one season out of the deal, even in a heightened era of player empowerment.
(The Nets aren’t blameless either. They’ve put Irving on a fast path to success, and there are consequences to that).
There is also lasting collateral damage. Brooklyn shunned a strong coach in Kenny Atkinson, who had made progress rebuilding Brooklyn before Irving and Durant decided they wanted a new coach. Steve Nash, Atkinson’s replacement, saw his first foray into coaching sabotaged in two seasons.
The Nets are trading first-round picks to create a Big 3 of Durant, Irving and Harden, and to date, they have no first-round picks in 2024 and 2026, and they’ve given up the most favorable of their picks. 2023, 2025, and 2027 draft picks in trades.
Of course, they’ll get first-round picks in offers from Durant and Irving if that’s how it goes.
But it takes the Nets back to where they were around 2017 when they had young players and were trying to build through the draft, savvy free agent signings and veterans who provided direction.
Brooklyn general manager Sean Marks took the job in 2016, and 6 and a half years later he’s starting from scratch.
The Nets can’t screw it up anymore.
Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.