Kyrie Irving could not wait for a fresh start after a tumultuous third season with the Brooklyn Nets mercifully ended in a first-round sweep.
A promising season that started with championship aspirations wound up with so many questions.
Foremost is the future of Irving with the team. But the seven-time NBA All-Star guard quickly answered that in the aftermath of their 116-112 loss to his former team, Boston Celtics, in Game 4 at home on Monday night.
“I don’t really plan on going anywhere,” Irving told reporters. This [sweep] is an added motivation for our franchise to be at the top of the league for the next few years. And I’m just looking forward to the summer and just building with our guys here.”
Irving is expected to decline his $36.9 million player option next season. He is eligible to extend for up to four years, $183.6 million, or up to five years, $247.6 million.
Durant signed a four-year, 198 million extension last summer.
Three seasons into their partnership, they have only one playoff win to show.
In the first year of their partnership, Durant did not play as he recovered from an Achilles heel injury. Irving only played 20 games after suffering a shoulder injury.
In their second year, Irving hurt his ankle in the playoffs.
Irving was reduced to a part-time player before the playoffs and played only 29 games this year.
There is plenty of blame to pass around, but their woes started when Irving decided not to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
“I think it was just really heavy, emotionally the season. We all felt it. I felt like I was letting the team down to a point where I wasn’t able to play. We were trying to exercise every option for me to play, but I never wanted it to just be about me. And it became a distraction at times, and you know, as you see, we just had some drastic changes,” said Irving, who admitted for the first time that his costly decision tolled heavily on the team.
It alienated James Harden, who held a silent protest and eventually got his wish to be traded to Philadelphia in exchange for Ben Simmons, who never played a single minute on the court this season.
“We lost a franchise player. And we got a franchise player back. But we didn’t get a chance to see him on the floor, and there was no pressure for him to step on the floor with us,” said Irving.
Simmons backed out of his planned season debut in Game 4 last-minute after waking up Sunday with a sore back. The Nets were reportedly confused and disheartened by Simmons’ last-minute decision, but his co-stars have publicly supported him.
“We have his back. He’s going to be good for next year,” Irving said. “But now, we just turn the page and look forward to what we’re building as a franchise and really get tougher because this is a league that’s getting younger. It’s getting more athletic, taller, and more competitive, and these young guys are hungry out here, and you see it. I can feel it.”
The Nets’ aging veterans fizzled out against the much younger, more athletic Celtics, whose size held the soon-to-be-34-year-old Durant to his worst playoff performance.
The 34-year-old LaMarcus Aldridge, who unretired to chase a ring, has not played since sustaining a hip injury earlier this month. Patty Mills, 33, regressed after the All-Star break. Goran Dragic, 35, played his best game on Tuesday night but came too late. Blake Griffin turned in spirited performances in Games 3 and 4, but clearly, he is only a shell of himself.
The Nets are limited in what they can do once Irving re-signs. They only have the $6.3 mid-level exception to offer aside from the veteran minimums. Their best assets are the two first-round picks they acquired from the Harden trade.
“When I say I’m here with Kevin, I think that it really entails us managing this franchise together alongside [team owner] Joe (Tsai) and [GM] Sean (Marks), and just our group of family members that we have in our locker room in our in our organization,” said Irving.
“So it’s not just about me and Kev. I don’t want to make it just about that. We are cornerstones here. But we have a few other guys that are on contract. And I think we just got to make some moves this offseason and really talk about it. And really be intentional about what we’re building, and have some fun with it, make it enjoyable.”
They have six guaranteed contracts (Durant, Simmons, Joe Harris, Seth Curry, Cam Thomas, and Day’Ron Sharpe) for next season. It will become eight once Irving re-signs and if Mills opts into his player option.
Unless they trade Joe Harris, it is increasingly likely, that the Nets will return next season with the same core of Durant, Irving, Simmons, and Harris.
“Hopefully, we get to start from day one just as a squad and as a family, and we just really worry about us. Sometimes I feel like the noise on the external world, and outside noise can seep in,” Irving said.
“I’m not the type of person to allow that to happen. So as we build together as a squad, I just think we need to be tougher mentally. And just be more honest about what we want to accomplish and just stick to the goal, stick to the mission.”
Sounds like a plan. But a plan without commitment usually leads to results like they had this season.
Irving has a lot of catching up in his commitment to the franchise he said he grew up watching.
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