With Kyrie Irving locked in for next season, Nets must live up to expectations

Kyrie Irving
Kyrie Irving arrives at the BET Awards on Sunday, June 26, 2022, at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles.
Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP

When two of the most prolific basketball players of a generation — Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant —  landed in Brooklyn in 2019 there were plenty of Nets fans dreaming of New York basketball supremacy, multiple championships and Barclays Center being the center of the basketball universe. 

Three years later, the Nets are still just looking for their first Eastern Conference Finals appearance, let alone an NBA title, but with Irving opting into the final year of his contract Brooklyn will get one final shot to reach that goal. After nearly a week of speculations and rumors, Irving made it known he’d be playing out the final year of his deal in Brooklyn with Durant. 

That means it’s championship or bust for the Nets this upcoming year with Irving now available full time with no vaccine mandates in place, a healthy Durant and a presumably healthy Ben Simmons. That was what the Nets had waited for all of the second half of the year last season before they were unceremoniously knocked out of the first round by the Boston Celtics. 

Now they’ll get one more shot at chasing the franchise’s first NBA title with Durant, Irving and Simmons leading the charge. But after some very public negotiating tactics on both sides it isn’t just Irving that has something to prove for next season. 

Yes, Irving will need to be at the top of his game, not only to help the Nets reach the championship potential that they’ve pushed for the pat few years, but he’ll be playing to repair his reputation and prove he is worth the money he wants from Brooklyn or any other team that could pursue him as a free agent next offseason. 

There is no question about the talent that Irving brings to the court. Even in limited appearances last season, Irving put on dazzling displays of basketball IQ and skill. He averaged 27.4 points per game last year and recorded 50 and 60-point games during the regular season. 

Kyrie Irving
Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving (11) walks up the court during the first half of Game 4 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Boston Celtics, Monday, April 25, 2022, in New York.AP Photo/John Minchillo

Teams know what he is capable of, as do the Nets brass, but Irving’s personality and off-the-court drama have certainly seemed to impact the perception of him around the league. Irving got a sense of that when the Nets allowed his camp to look for a sign-and-trade and only one team reportedly showed any interest. 

That means this year he needs to remind everyone of just how deadly he is on the court and prove that the knocks on his personality don’t hold merit. After tumultuous exits from two teams and what has gone on in Brooklyn, Irving has taken some hits in the court of public opinion. 

There is certainly something to be said for just how fair or unfair some of the criticisms levied at him have been, but Irving hasn’t done himself too many favors either.

However, the pressure shouldn’t just be on Irving. Rather Sean Marks and the Nets front office should be on heightened alert this season. They too have one final shot to prove this endeavor was the right and that the team they moved heaven and earth to construct was the right call. 

Marks has moved draft picks and role players that had been the foundation for the Nets culture in order to try and build Brooklyn’s super team. Now he has his three stars ready to go next year and he needs to make sure the right talent is around them to be successful. 

The Brooklyn GM has been getting plenty of praise for presumably winning the standoff with Irving and taking a hardline stance against giving him a long-term extension. Marks played with fire and came out the other side unscathed for now. 

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Now he has to make sure that his Nets team is deep enough to withstand injury, compliments the stars that they have and can finally live up to the expectations. 

The Nets will be looked at as title contenders yet again in 2022-23, and this team needs to live up to the lofty expectations because it may look entirely different after this year if they don’t.