Sitting in a back room in the bowels of Barclays Center, Ty Lue shook his head and laughed at his bum luck. The Clippers coach was scheduled to face Luka Doncic on Wednesday night, and wouldn’t you know it, now he was scheduled to face Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving on Wednesday night.
“I don’t want to think about that already,” Lue said.
He was 90 minutes away from facing the Nets, and yet he couldn’t help but think about his upcoming game plan against the Mavericks. Lue loves to blitz each ball-dominant playmaker the way old-school NFL types like Buddy Ryan and his sons loved to blitz pocket quarterbacks.
“And now they’ve got two of ’em,” Lue sighed.
Hey, it’s a wonderful thing to have multiple stars at your disposal. Lue won a title in Cleveland with Irving and LeBron James in 2016, when it appeared the Cavaliers would form an Eastern Conference juggernaut that wouldn’t be denied for a good, long while. Irving left first, for the Celtics, before James left for the Lakers. They wanted to get back together all these years later, but Nets owner Joe Tsai wasn’t about to give Irving the perfect landing he desired, not after the point guard had put the entire franchise through hell for so long.
Everyone who cares about the Nets has a right to be mad at Irving, whose transgressions have given new meaning to the term “well-documented.” But the person who should be angriest is Kevin Durant. He left Steph Curry and the Warriors dynasty for a new adventure with Irving, who sold his tall, slender friend a big, fat lie.
In the first hours of free agency on July 1, 2016 — at 4:16 a.m. to be exact — Irving, Durant, and DeAndre Jordan discussed playing together for the team the Jersey-born Irving grew up rooting for.
“We want to end our careers together,” the point guard would say. “We want to do this as a team, and then what better place to do it in Brooklyn with all these guys that have worked their tails off to be where they are now?”
Nearly all those grinders were eventually run out of their scholarships, and the coach who fit that team’s identity, Kenny Atkinson, was shown the door. Funny how things work out. On arrival in 2019, when explaining why he chose Brooklyn, this is what Durant had to say:
“I was doing a lot of YouTube research on Kenny Atkinson and watching interviews and seeing how he talked after games, and I really liked his approach to his craft as a coach. And that’s what drew me in pretty quickly. … It started to make me feel at ease even though I never even had a conversation with him.”
This isn’t to solely blame Durant for the arrival of Steve Nash, a novice who was completely overmatched, or for his push for/blessing of the James Harden trade, or for any of the other misguided moves he influenced, moves that allowed the Nets to lead the league in only one category — trade demands, including Durant’s.
Truth is, KD doesn’t deserve half the blame that should be assigned Irving, who repeatedly abandoned his teammate before blowing him off for good. And since the point guard is no longer available to feel his wrath, Durant might feel compelled to take it out on the Nets and, for a second time, demand a trade. If not by Thursday afternoon, then sometime next summer.
He should resist the urge to do that. Durant should honor the terms of the four-year, $198 million extension he signed to take him through the 2025-26 season due to the potential benefits of conquering this immense challenge.
At 34, Durant has already proven he can win championships as the best player on a stacked team. He has already proven he can make as pressure-packed a shot as any New York star, Knicks or Nets, has ever made (Game 7 vs. Milwaukee, 2021).
Imagine the impact on his legacy if he can rise from this rubble and ultimately beat the Knicks to the city’s first NBA championship since 1973.
Asked if he is concerned that Durant’s desire to remain in Brooklyn long term has been adversely impacted by all the organizational chaos, Nets coach Jacque Vaughn said:
“At the end of the day Kevin wants to win, and that’s always been our goal. He wants to win at shootaround, he wants to win any game of the week. That’s why he loves to play. That’s why he wants to play 82 games. That will be our holy grail. We will continue to try to put a group out there that wins. Until there’s something for me to be concerned about, I’ll carry on as business as usual.”
The Nets will never represent business as usual. But they do finally have a coach who looks like a keeper in Vaughn, and some interesting complementary pieces.
They also have an all-time great, Kevin Durant, who can do an awful lot for his place in history if he sticks it out here and wins a ring.