The Kyrie Irving dilemma has ended — for now. Uncle Drew has returned, and one of the most spectacular ball handlers in the world will return to play with his team, as he should.
Irving has always been his own man, marching to the beat of his own drum. He did not play a lot in his lone season with the Duke Blue Devils, but the Cleveland Cavaliers still thought he deserved to be the No.1 pick over Big Dance flash in the pan Derrick Williams. It was the right decision, although that draft eventually yielded Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson and Jimmy Butler.
He signed with the Cavs after three years of failure when everyone thought he would leave. It turned out, he stayed because LeBron James was about to return. After winning a title over the Golden State Warriors, Irving’s honeymoon with the King had worn out and eventually forced his way out. Supposedly, Irving wanted to be “the man.”
Irving became “the man” in the Boston Celtics, a contender with grade-A young talent. Somehow, he also did not want to be there, and he mailed another season. He left as a free agent and signed with the Brooklyn Nets to team up with Kevin Durant. They ended up on the sideline for almost an entire season.
When Kyrie plays, you tend to forget all his off-court shenanigans and the flat Earth weirdness. He averaged 27 points — the highest in his career, as the highest scoring duo in the league with Kevin Durant, who could go down as an all-time scoring prototype.
Visionary or slacker?
Irving’s statement on his return: “My commitment has always [been] to bringing something special to Brooklyn, It wasn’t just a championship. It was unity, equality, just bigger things than just the game itself. It took quite a while and quite a few valleys to get back home, initially. So, for me, I’m just taking every day, just being grateful.”
Kyrie paid his dues financially, but if you’re part of the Brooklyn Nets brass, how do you envision a title run when your important player is “taking every day”? He just needed to step away, but this is a team game. It was a good move to grab James Harden, which made Irving the third instead of the second man. But now they have lost their depth.
It’s infinitely harder to trade Irving now, and Steve Nash couldn’t hide his exasperation of having to deal with these “personalities.” The only thing going for them is that they’re winning actual games, the latest against the MVP and his regular season topnotchers.
If Irving is really a visionary, or if he is just a slacker who walks away, the bottom line for the Brooklyn Nets is whether he will play or not. If every game is a mystery, can Steve Nash deal with that added challenge now that you could suddenly lose five players due to contact tracing?
The Brooklyn Nets Revolution
The Nets will be contenders in the East with just Harden and Durant, but they need more players at the backend. Irving is still a plus when he plays, no matter what. It will be a defensive nightmare with those three on the court. All three can shoot outside (Harden’s slump is temporary since he was forcing himself out of Houston, he will revert to his personal mean), drive to the basket and pass competently.
The caveat is that only Durant plays decent defense. With the Bucks, Harden still had shades of his old self. He’ll take a possession off and, many times, he will just wait for the ball to come around. But they’re good enough to make that work. Harden still scores 30 points, grabs rebounds and even dishes double-digit assists.
Can a team win a title without defense? They’ll let you score, but they’ll score quicker on the other side. In the playoffs, the cliche is that defense wins championships, but the Brooklyn Nets have the personnel to break that.
The Warriors broke the notion that a jump shooting team can never win a title. But will a team with no defense do the same?