Wednesday, June 29, 2022

‘It Hurts’: Before the Nets’ Season Is Over, See How Good the Big Three Can Be

Whether Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving could collaborate, share basketball, and play enough defense to bring the championship to New York’s less-heralded NBA franchise, which engulfed the entire league, was unknown.

Now, after the Milwaukee Bucks finished Saturday night in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series, the Nets can’t rest their doubts until next year. After a 48–24 season and a playoff ride that lasted only two rounds, the biggest questions about his three stars remain unanswered.

Injuries sparked potential basketball issues and neutralized the Nets’ position among the Las Vegas Oddsmakers as title favorites. Durant, Harden and Irving only shared the floor for 43 seconds in the Bucks series. In Game 7, with only Durant as a dependable offensive substitute and Irving in street clothes, Milwaukee overtook the Nets, 115–111, in overtime at Barclays Center, which in itself was a serious pain.

“It hurts,” said coach Steve Nash, praising the efforts of Durant, who scored 48 points in 53 minutes in Game 7, and Harden, who played all 53 minutes despite a hamstring strain. “I hurt for them more than anything.”

The NBA’s 75th season will be remembered for its COVID-19 protocols, suspension of games, and months of lull. But the Nets became the league’s biggest on-court story since the January acquisition of Harden from the Houston Rockets. Five years after hiring general manager Sean Marks to rescue a franchise devoid of elite talent and draft picks, Marks made him a legitimate contender by assembling one of the most impressive offensive threesomes in league history.

The trouble for the Nets wasn’t his defensive shortcomings, the depth he sacrificed to trade with the Rockets, the lack of available practice time during the coronavirus pandemic, or Nash’s inexperience as a first-year coach. It was this: In the regular season, Durant, Harden and Irving were healthy enough to play together for only 202 minutes in eight games. Their 130 minutes together in a five-game dismissal of the Boston Celtics in the first round proved to be their only blast of consistency as a unit. Milwaukee won three of the final four games of the series after Irving sprained his right ankle in the first half of Game 4.

These playoffs were seen as the Nets’ chance to move a slice or two of cultural relevance from Manhattan to Brooklyn in a city full of Knicks fans. In the end, neither Marx nor Nash really got away with knowing what the nets might actually look like when completed.

Some of the key moments that brought the Nets to this point:

Entering the 2019-20 season, there was much speculation about where Durant and Irving would end up. Earlier last season, Irving had committed to a longer stay with Boston, while Durant was on his way to another title with Golden State. As the world learned that after their season settled – Durant went through an Achilles tear in the 2019 NBA Finals – they wanted to play together.

The Nets had enough salary cap flexibility to sign them, as well as their friend DeAndre Jordan. The Knicks had the same means, but Durant and Irving chose the Nets and took Jordan with them, who ended the 2018–19 season with the Knicks.

The Nets rocked the NBA again in September 2020 by appointing Nash as coach. He also had no coaching experience at the assistant level, but won two Most Valuable Player awards and was one of the best point guards in league history.

He was essentially picked up by his former Phoenix Suns teammate Marx, who felt he had the gravity and communication skills to manage the Nets’ two brilliant stars. Harden wouldn’t arrive for a few weeks into Nash’s first season on the bench. The Nets also brought in former Nash coach Mike D’Antoine to Phoenix to provide experienced guidance.

“I wasn’t hired to come in and be a tactical magician,” Nash said on a podcast hosted by NBA sharpshooter JJ Reddick.

The hiring of Nash, who is white, nevertheless received criticism, given the lack of Black coaches in the NBA, whose player pool is estimated to be around 80 percent Black. Nash’s appointment comes after Jack Vaughan, who completed the 2019-20 season as the team’s interim coach and led the Nets into the so-called NBA bubble in Florida, was unexpectedly good without Durant and Irving. Vaughan, who is Black, stayed on as an assistant with D’Antoine and Ime Udoka. On ESPN, Stephen A. Smith Nash’s recruitment is called “white privilege.”

“Well, I obviously skipped the line,” Nash said in his introductory news conference. “But at the same time, I think it’s very unique to lead an NBA team for almost two decades.”

Harden entered this season as a disgruntled member of the Rockets. He wanted to drop out after D’Antoine and Daryl Morey left the team without an established coach and its top office executive, and Harden headed to the Nets to rejoin his former Oklahoma City Thunder teammate Durant. Pushed for a business. it was an audacious move for someone He has three years left on his contract – And when it worked, it cemented the Nets as a league villain.

Harden reported late at training camp to pressure him to trade the Rockets. His indifference was evident during the eight regular-season games he played for appearing in less than optimal shape. The Nets, with a 6–6 start, ignored Harden’s playoff résumé and the overarching suspicion that one ball would not be enough to satisfy three high-volume scorers, and proceeded with trade talks. .

In a four-team trade, Marx agreed to hand control of the Nets’ top draft pick to the Rockets by 2027 and field two young fan favorites, Caris Levert (for Indiana) and Jarrett Allen (for Cleveland) to Harden. . As a bonus, the trade prevented Harden from landing with center Joel Embiid in Philadelphia when the 76ers offered the Rockets a deal involving Ben Simmons.

The deal remains a gamble for the Nets. Scrutiny and pressure will increase every year without championships. Management will have to decide whether to go ahead with contract extensions with Durant, Harden and Irving, which will cost hundreds of millions in salary and luxury taxes, or risk choosing any of the three for free agency next season. Will happen. their current contract.

“This is just the beginning of our journey,” Nets owner Joe Tsai said on Twitter. After the loss of Game 7. Known as one of the league’s wealthiest owners, along with Steve Ballmer of the Los Angeles Clippers, Tsai certainly has the financial power to hold the core together.

Read Also:  The Jets' season ended with a historic 27-10 defeat to the Bills.

During and after Harden’s pursuit, Irving missed seven games in January for personal reasons. Marx said that Irving’s sudden unavailability and acquisition were “entirely different”. According to two people familiar with the club’s thinking, who were not authorized to discuss it publicly, the Nets nevertheless felt it was necessary to maximize Durant’s championship window and traded with this in mind.

The Nets knew they would not have training camp to try to get Harden into the team, but they felt that by bringing in a durable player, they would almost always have two elite players. According to one person, it also became clear soon after Harden arrived that he was best suited to be the team’s playmaker. Obvious, even, to Irving.

“We established that probably four days ago,” Irving said in February. “I just looked at him and I said, ‘You’re the point guard and I’m going to play the shooting guard.’ It was as simple as that.”

Cries that Harden was a luxury item for the Nets quickly faded. In games played by Harden, the team went 29–8 in the regular season and 12–11 without him.

The health crisis began almost immediately; Spencer Dinwiddie lost to a season-ending knee tear in just three games. Dinwiddie had an average career-high 20.6 points season per game First, and a team full of them was expected to be in danger of scoring another goal.

Durant largely overcame his Achilles tear, ending his season with 49 points against Milwaukee in Game 5 and 48 points in Game 7. But he played only 35 of the Nets’ 72 regular-season games because of a hamstring. Injury. Harden, who was battling his hamstring injury, missed the regular season (21 of the last 23 games) and the playoffs more time than any previous season.

The Nets were rocked in April when they signed LaMarcus Aldridge, a former All-Star who retired at age 35 due to a long-standing heart condition, after negotiating a buyout with the San Antonio Spurs. . Nash used a franchise-record 38 starting lineups in those 72 games and four different lineups in the Bucks series, relying on the well-travelled Jeff Greene; Blake Griffin, a former All-Star who joined the team in April; and Griffin’s former Detroit Pistons teammate Bruce Brown.

For the playoffs, the nets finally looked healthy – for round one. Harden missed all but the opening minutes of the first four games of the Milwaukee series and his legs exploded or lacked lift when Irving returned voluntarily for Game 5 following an ankle sprain. Green’s plantar fascia strain kept him out of the first three games with the Bucks.

“It’s been a really tough year,” Nash said. “We’ve thrown a lot at us.”

Even with injuries and the Milwaukee Stars recuperating, the Nets came within an inch of advancing to the next round. With one second in regulation and 2 points in the nets in Game 7, Durant scored a competitive shot from the right wing that appeared to be a 3-pointer for the win. But his toe was on the 3-point line, and it counted as a long 2, sending the Nets into overtime instead of the Eastern Conference Finals.

“My big ass stepped on the foot line,” Durant said. “I was just looking at a little screenshot of how close I was to ending his season on that shot. But it was not in God’s plan, and we move on.”

Nation World News Desk
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