This year was not supposed to be a great one for the Brooklyn Nets. Everyone knew that.
Yes, the Nets landed both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in free agency, but with Durant set to miss the entire 2019-20 campaign while recovering from a torn Achilles, no one thought of Brooklyn as much more than a 4 or 5-seed in the Eastern Conference that would probably end up getting knocked out of the first round.
But I also don’t think many people were fully aware of the growing pains that would come with an Irving-led team.
The Nets have gotten off to a 1-2 start this season, and before we get ahead of ourselves here, it has only been three games. There is plenty of time for Brooklyn to right the ship, and some gelling is expected.
However, the way the Nets have been losing these games has to be frustrating for the team.
It started on opening night, when Irving’s 50 points were still not enough to top the Minnesota Timberwolves in overtime. Brooklyn then rebounded with a win over the lowly New York Knicks, although the Nets blew a 17-point lead in the process and needed some late heroics from Irving to seal the deal.
Brooklyn proceeded to cough up another late lead against the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday, and this time, it came back to bite the Nets, as Jae Crowder burned them with a buzzer-beater.
Kyrie Irving has been fantastic, averaging 37.7 points per game, but you can’t help but notice some parallels between the way the Nets are playing thus far and how the Boston Celtics played all of last year with Irving leading the way.
The Celtics became synonymous with blown leads last season, and while double-digit comebacks are becoming more and more commonplace in today’s fast-paced NBA, Boston’s inability to hold big leads in 2018-19 was particularly maddening.
Could Brooklyn be following the same fate?
Again, it’s too early to tell for sure, but there are some troubling signs thus far.
What propelled the Nets to the playoffs last year was their ball movement. They ranked eighth in the NBA in passes per game with an average of 309, and that was even with the ball-dominant D’Angelo Russell running the show.
Through three games this year? Brooklyn’s ball movement has fallen off a cliff, as it ranks 25th in the league with 260.7 passes per game.
Of course, that is largely a product of Irving, who is known for playing hero ball (because he is pretty damn good at it), but at what cost? Could Irving’s isolation style ultimately hinder the good habits the Nets formed last season?
It’s silly to not want a player of Irving’s caliber, because he is that talented, but you also have to keep in mind that the players around him also need to adjust to his style.
The Celtics players couldn’t do that. Now, to be clear, the Nets are not stockpiled with talent like last year’s Boston squad, so you wouldn’t think their guys would clash with Irving as much, but early on, it seems evident that Brooklyn just isn’t sure what to do yet.
And that’s okay, because, well, again: it has been three games.
But the reason why it is notable is because of the fact that Kyrie Irving is Kyrie Irving, and he has a checked history.
It wasn’t just in Boston; he caused issues in Cleveland, as well, issues that were masked by LeBron James’ greatness.
The C’s didn’t have a LeBron James in their locker room last year to keep Irving in check. The Nets don’t have that this year, because even if Durant is around the team, it’s different when you’re not actually playing.
Now, to be fair, Irving technically did not voice his approval of playing in either Cleveland or Boston. The Cavaliers drafted him, and the Celtics traded for him. It’s not like he chose to play for either club.
Kyrie Irving blatantly picked the Nets in free agency, because they were his hometown team growing up in New Jersey, and he wanted to be closer to his family (which he noted in his introductory press conference).
So perhaps Irving is entirely comfortable in Brooklyn, and maybe the Nets players will follow suit and become acclimated to his technique, which is night and day from what they experienced last season.
But just going by the early returns, it seems like there will be an adjustment period that will need to occur in Brooklyn, one that might be very exasperating for Nets fans who were expecting big things right from the jump.
Not only is the ball not moving, but Brooklyn’s defense isn’t where it needs to be, either, as the Nets rank 20th in the league in defensive efficiency.
All of those things equate to losses, which is most of what the Nets have gone through over the course of their first three contests, and it’s not like they have been playing world-beaters.
The Nets might still be good this year, and I do think they will get things fixed and ultimately make the playoffs and be a potential first-round nuisance in the East, but it might take a while, and it might never come to fruition.
I mean, it’s Kyrie Irving. Who knows?