After years of Kyrie Irving tumult, Nets reach surprisingly quick, positive outcome

On the night of June 30, 2019, the Brooklyn Nets basketball staff gathered at the team’s practice facility. It was the first night of free agency, and Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving had announced they would sign with the Nets.

With food and drinks from Carbone, the team officials spent the night celebrating their coup. The culture-focused plan put in place by CEO Sean Marks after he was hired in 2016, which included three years of patient and painful rebuilding, had paid off. The Nets — THE NETS!— had transformed their dying team. Not only were they apparently meant to be really, really good, but they mattered in a way they never had before.

Since then, almost nothing else for the Nets has gone right.

You can point the finger at all sorts of people — Marks and Durant and Steve Nash and James Harden and Joe Tsai — but the main problem, it’s become clear, is that Irving’s capricious, stubborn, selfish mix swallowed up the franchise.

To review: There was a time, less than a year into his tenure in Brooklyn, where he told reporters, standing in the locker room among his teammates, that the Nets had a “bright” more talent needs to be added. And then there was the time he disappeared for a couple of weeks without notifying the team. And of course, who can forget his refusal to get vaccinated against COVID-19 (for reasons he never clearly articulated), making him ineligible for home games. Or the time he promoted an anti-Semitic film on his social media accounts and then, in an even more irritating display, not only refused to apologize but also repeatedly defended the action.

And then came Friday’s trade demand. Irving didn’t care that he was playing for a team that had established itself as a championship contender. He was months away from free agency, and in his eyes, the Nets’ refusal to give him a four-year max extension was reason to leave now.

And so, after four and a half years, Irving’s time with the Nets has come to an end. It will be remembered as one of the biggest busts in sports history. Irving appeared in just 143 regular season games. He and Durant shared the court in just 74 years. The duo only won one playoff series in four seasons.

Now, Marks and the Nets have four days to save it all. Give them credit for this: They moved quickly with Irving and took advantage of it the desperation of the Dallas Mavericks. Spencer Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith are two players capable of contributing come playoff time. More notable, however, was the Nets’ ability to walk away from the Mavs an unprotected first-round pick in 2029 (which happens to be two years after Luka Dončić’s current contract expires).

The Nets will now take that pick and shop it, along with their own 2029 first-rounder and 2027, the top eight first-rounders they have via the Philadelphia 76ers, and see if they can find another upgrade. Maybe they’ll see if anyone is interested in Ben Simmons, though that’s doubtful. It’s also worth noting how Simmons’ slump has hurt this team. He was the insurance policy. They basically turned all those draft picks and assets they used to make Harden one of the least desirable assets in the league.

Throw in Cam Thomas and/or Day’Ron Sharpe, though, and they might have something. Could it be enough to land one of the Toronto Raptors veterans? John Collins? Maybe someone else?

There is a world where the Nets can come out better than before. Finney-Smith gives them another capable wing defender, Dinwiddie is a solid shot creator, and any team with Durant has a shot. They’ll never be able to replace Irving’s electric shot-making, but they also won’t have to spend every day worrying if they’re about to fall into mayhem.

Talent usually wins in the NBA, but perhaps Irving is one of those rare examples where less is, in fact, more.

Yaron Weitzman is an NBA writer for FOX Sports and the author of Closing in on the top: The Philadelphia 76ers and the boldest run in professional sports history. Follow him on Twitter @YaronWeitzman.

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