The Nets were overwhelmed, exhausted and undone by everything but basketball
2: 10 AM ET
Ramona ShelburneESPN Senior Writer
- Senior writer for ESPN.com
- Spent seven years at the Los Angeles Daily News
Mike D’Antoni was watching the Brooklyn Nets‘ season-ending loss to the Boston Celtics on Monday night from his living room in Austin, Texas, a world away from the drama his protege, Nets coach Steve Nash, had just lived through.
A year ago, D’Antoni had been on the Nets’ bench alongside Nash as the two-time MVP coached what will go down as one of the greatest teams that never was to within a shoe size of the Eastern Conference finals.
Nine years ago, D’Antoni had been on the Los Angeles Lakers‘ bench for another notoriously star-crossed season, when Nash, Kobe Bryant, Paul Gasol and Dwight Howard flopped their way to a first-round sweep.
But, this Nets season was unlike anything D’Antoni has ever seen.
” “The situation was just too strange,” he said. “When you add all the other things that happened this year… and then having the to fight for their lives for a whole month just to get in the play-in game… It’s not surprising that they struggled. “
After it was all over Monday night in Brooklyn, Nash and the Nets’ superstars took their turns at the lectern, making similar allusions to the off-the-court drama that overwhelmed the Nets this season and left them exhausted on every level by the end of it.
Kyrie Irving called it “being the polarization of the media scrum” and “noise. “
Kevin Durant referenced a lack of “continuity. “
Nash talked about “all those things off of the floor” and how they affected his team on the court.
” Our guys were tired,” Nash stated. “They’re tired. “
The final minutes of Monday’s game brought all this to the forefront.
With 2: 45 to go, and Boston leading 109-103, Brooklyn caught a massive break when referee Sean Wright called the sixth foul on Celtics star Jayson Tatum.
On the next play, a resurgent Blake Griffin muscled a key offensive rebound over Boston’s Al Horford, leading to an Irving 3-pointer that cut the lead to three points. When Durant stole the ball from Jaylen Brown and hit a 14-foot floater to cut the lead to one with 1: 28 to go, it seemed the momentum had swung toward Brooklyn. But the Nets were unable to find relief in a season that was defined by it.
Kevin Durant reacts to how the Nets’ season ended and whether or not Steve Nash is the right coach for the team going forward.
Durant missed back-to-back 3-pointers and a key free throw, Irving failed to box out Horford on an offensive rebound and putback after Griffin had kept Marcus Smart from converting a fast-break layup, and all that was left to do at the game’s end was shake hands and credit the superior team on a series sweep.
Afterward, Durant was asked if he had any regrets about the season, the series or the game.
“He shrugged. “S— happens. This year, we’ve seen a lot. Everyone knows what we’ve gone through. “
Durant started to list the things that have happened to the Nets this season, but he quickly lost interest in the recap: Irving’s battles with the city of New York over its vaccine mandate, the James Harden trade, the uncertainty over Ben Simmons‘ back injury as well as his mental health, a COVID-19 outbreak, injuries, a lack of consistency and most glaringly, camaraderie that proved impossible to develop. Durant stated that he wished the group was more healthy. “I wish there was more consistency as a team. But that’s just the league. Each team experiences this. “
He seemed tired of all the drama and uninterested to make excuses. Durant was the Nets’ most consistent player, despite his injuries.
He doesn’t know how much it took to his physical and mental health. Monday night, he was not in the mood to admit to fatigue or use the heavy load as an excuse.
Nash was however blunt.
“Throughout the season,” Nash stated. “There were just too few [things].”,” Nash said. The basketball world performed a long-term autopsy of the Nets’ season. But the premise behind these analyses is flawed.
It isn’t what went wrong for the Nets, or what happened to them. It’s about the decisions that allowed these culture-shattering and team-destroying problems to exist in first place.
Whether it be Harden quitting on the team and asking to be traded midseason, Irving being unable to play in games in New York City and Toronto due to his vaccination status, or even Simmons’ decision to force a trade from Philadelphia after last season and drawn out a “ramp-up” process to play again, which never came to fruition. The Nets’ management has tried to support their stars all season. This kind of respect is generally appreciated by superstar players. The Nets’ stars, except for Durant, did not show the same respect. That’s a problem for a star-system team.
Just think about how much time and energy they wasted on issues off the court that could have been used for basketball. How many hours were spent deliberating on Irving’s vaccination status. How much energy was expended deliberating about what to do with Harden. How many hours were spent deliberating on Simmons’ fate in Game 4?
Kyrie Irving admits his status was a distraction to the Nets this season and remains adamant he will return to Brooklyn in the fall.
Irving alluded to the toll and his responsibility in it after the game. He said that it was a very difficult season emotionally. “I felt like I was letting down the team at a time when I wasn’t able play.
” I don’t want it to be all about me, but it has become a distraction for me at times. Irving then reiterated the power he and Durant were given within the organization.
“When you say I’m here, it means that we manage this franchise together — along with Joe and Sean,” Irving said. He was referring to Nets owner Joe Tsai, and general manager Sean Marks.
” We need to be deliberate about what we build. “
Irving spoke of his motivation to build a better team and culture next season, and not just relying on individual performance as the Nets so often had to this year. He was clearly speaking as a star who has been fully supported by his franchise. This is great when things go well, but it can be frustrating when they don’t.
If this sounds familiar, it is. The West Coast Nets, the Lakers, failed to make it to the playoffs this season.
It’s ironic for a coach such as Nash, who made a name for himself as a player in a system as democratic as D’Antoni’s “Seven seconds or less” Phoenix Suns, and a general manager like Marks, who was reared in the San Antonio Spurs‘ culture hive, to have built a team like this. They will all reflect on what they could and should have done differently, just like everyone else. They will then try it again next season, hoping that the lessons learned will be useful.
” The hard part is that we all grew tremendously, but we weren’t able o get the benefits this year,” Nash stated postgame. To say goodbye after going through so much this year is hard. Because we worked hard to keep each other together. “
Nash is correct. The Nets fought. They were just not always fighting their opponents on the court.
D’Antoni, for his part, still has faith in Brooklyn’s superstar-laden roster.
“You’ve not seen anything of what they can do,” D’Antoni said. It must have a chance. It’s New York and New York is: “What have you done yesterday for me?” ‘
“Hopefully they’ll be able to get that. “
The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.