NEW YORK (AP) — Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons supply the talent. Embarrassment provides the motivation.
The Brooklyn Nets know they made a monumental mess of the 2021-22 season, turning a championship contender into a first-round flop. Durant was so discouraged he asked to be traded, Irving so unreliable he didn’t get a contract beyond this season.
They’re back together now, so don’t count out Brooklyn. Especially because the fuel Durant describes may be more powerful than potential.
“A year of us looking in the mirror, like, we (messed) up as a team and that only makes you better,” Durant said. “So, I’m banking on that. I’ve got faith in that.”
Perhaps that’s why Durant ultimately dropped his request to be dealt and agreed to move forward in Brooklyn, where he is about to start the four-year extension he signed last summer. Or maybe it’s simply because he knew the Nets were never going to find a trade acceptable to them, so he needed to accept that he was staying.
That means the Nets still have a roster that can chase a championship. Simmons is finally set to play again after sitting out all last season, first in Philadelphia because of mental health reasons, then in Brooklyn — after being acquired in the swap for James Harden — because of a herniated disk in his back that required surgery.
He provides the defensive expertise the Nets have so clearly lacked. It may take time on the other end of the floor — Simmons committed six turnovers in 25 minutes of a preseason game against Miami. But even without shooting much he could be an ideal playmaker flanked by the outside shooting of Durant, who averaged a franchise-record 29.9 points last season, and 3-point specialists Joe Harris and Seth Curry.
Then there’s Irving, who should be on the floor much more after playing only 29 games last season. He was unavailable for almost all Brooklyn’s home games because he isn’t vaccinated against COVID-19, as was mandated in New York City. The mandate has since been lifted.
The Nets then opted not to offer him the four-year contract for which he was eligible, leaving open the possibility that this could be Irving’s final season in Brooklyn. If so, he wants it to be nothing like 2021-22.
“I don’t want to have any doubts, or any regrets,” Irving said.
Maybe the Nets won’t. If healthy, there’s no reason they shouldn’t surpass the 44 wins and No. 7 seed they settled for last season, though it’s unclear if they can be as good as the Boston team that swept them, or other Eastern Conference contenders such as Milwaukee, Miami and Philadelphia.
Irving, perhaps in a nod to the Nets’ unpredictability, won’t make any forecasts.
“Just going to let our actions lead,” he said. “We’ve talked enough.”
The court at Barclays Center is marked with the No. 10, celebrating the decade since the Nets moved into the building from New Jersey in the fall of 2012.
With LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond all gone, the center spot appears to belong to Nic Claxton. The second-round pick in the 2019 draft averaged a career-best 8.7 points last season and signed a multiyear contract extension in the offseason.
Royce O’Neale, a longtime starter in Utah, and veteran big man Markieff Morris, who played last season in Miami after winning a title with the Lakers in 2020, are the key additions to the Nets’ rotation.
OPENING UP THE OFFENSE
The Nets were an isolation-heavy team last season, too often putting the ball in the hands of Durant, Irving or Harden and waiting for them to make a play. Coach Steve Nash said they will feature more ball movement this season.
Simmons isn’t the only Nets player who has gone a long time since playing in a regular-season game. T.J. Warren played only four games in his final two seasons in Indiana, missing all of 2021-22 with a foot injury. He isn’t expected to be ready when the season begins.
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