Kyrie Irving ruined the Nets (7-5-22)

By: Jonathan Mathis

Headline Photo Courtesy: CNN

The question remains as to how high is basketball on Kyrie Irving’s priority list. Nobody knows. Not even he knows the answer to that. The answer remains a mystery. The star guard’s future hangs in the balance entering an offseason of uncertainty despite opting into his $37 million player option. And he’s still not immune from criticism either. Fairly or unfairly, he was painted as the scapegoat for the Nets’ disappointing season.

No one ever doubted Irving’s competitiveness. No one ever questioned his scoring ability or ball-handling skills. He’s one of the league’s best players when he doesn’t take time off and actually plays. The problem is he might not be capable of doing what’s being asked of him. That will require consistent play from Irving, who has played in more than 70 games in only three seasons. That means he can’t take any nights off and must fully commit, show up and PLAY.

He missed a lot of games, too many, which cost the team many nights. With him being a vital piece to his team, especially in the postseason, where his services were desperately needed, he was confined to the sidelines in street clothes or his warm-up gear too often. In Irving’s 11 seasons in the league, he has only played in more than 60 of the 82 games five times. This past season, due to his position on the vaccine, he played just 29 games.

As the Nets struggled to put it all together during an unrelenting stretch in his absence, he refused to play as he remained unvaccinated. And while he did not play in a majority of home games due to the state of New York’s mandate, the Nets couldn’t enhance team identification without their elite stars. It was his call, and here’s hoping he can hit the reset button, and refocus on what he needs to do for next season whether that will be in Brooklyn or somewhere else in the association.

It’s on him.

Irving, who has a history of missing games and is going to essentially do it his way, has not looked motivated or engaged at times. And because he’s notoriously an unreliable source and not a trustworthy soul, Nets general manager Sean Marks was non-committal on Irving’s future with the team during a press conference not long ago.

Irving acknowledged his status as a part-time player ruined team chemistry, in particular, because of his personal choice to remain unvaccinated. At least a brutally honest Irving admitted his absence was a distraction for Kevin Durant and the team. His lack of interest hindered the development of team chemistry and cohesion. His vaccination status held his team back from achieving the ultimate goal of a championship. If he was fully invested in being a Net, then Brooklyn could have lived up or soared beyond expectations.

He’s the player whose veteran presence truly matters. He’s the thrillingly dynamic star who is somewhat wasting his talent. If his reputation was damaged in any way, next season whether it’s in Brooklyn or someplace else offers a chance for redemption, an opportunity to justify himself as one of the league’s most efficient go-to scorers. He can still be the version of himself who takes over ballgames. But lately, he’s chosen not to be that player.

It was encouraging when he spoke up for things like human rights, civil rights, and equality. Being that he’s one of the most popular figures in basketball, he has a giant platform he can use to send a message. But at the same time, Irving signed a contract to play basketball. It’s called showing up for work. It’s his occupation. It’s how he gets his bread. He can still hoop and exemplify the values of social activism.

While he still has to make himself available, he has shown that he can run the show and create for himself when he’s on the floor and feeling up to it. The moment Brooklyn abandoned its pursuit of a championship was when Irving had excuses for not fulfilling his responsibilities and became detrimental to the whole team. Rather than take accountability to create the kind of environment that would have set the team up to win, Irving blamed everybody but himself for the Nets’ debacle.

His absence had a negative impact on the Nets, seemingly both on and off the court. Any and everybody was invited to the pity party he threw for himself but nobody showed up. It was a mess caused, in part, by Irving. The mess had already been made that he didn’t even bother to clean it up in time for the playoffs.

He signed to join forces with Durant in Brooklyn but now it seems his time could be coming to an abrupt end the same way Durant’s time with the team has come to an end.