Kyrie Irving wants the Nets, but do the Nets want him?

As the Nets’ disappointing season drew to a close after being swept by the Boston Celtics in the first round of the Eastern Conference p...


As the Nets’ disappointing season drew to a close after being swept by the Boston Celtics in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, Kyrie Irving made it clear he was committed to the Nets for the long term.

But after a season in which Irving played just 29 of 82 regular season games due to his refusal to comply with a local vaccine ordinance, do the Nets want him back?

That question loomed large at the team’s season-ending press conference held Wednesday by general manager Sean Marks and coach Steve Nash. While Marks was reluctant to give a straight answer, the fact that he didn’t immediately say “yes” spoke almost as clearly as anything he could have said. The Nets have yet to decide if Irving can and should be part of their future.

“I think we know what we’re looking for,” Marks said. “We’re looking for guys who want to come here and be part of something bigger than themselves, play selflessly, play team basketball and be available. That goes not just for Kyrie but for everyone here.

This theme of availability persisted throughout Marks’ remarks and has been a challenge for the Nets’ star players.

Irving and Kevin Durant signed with Brooklyn to much fanfare in 2019, but the Nets have yet to reap the benefits of adding two multi-time All-Stars who had each won championships on their own. Durant missed the entire 2019-20 season as he recovered from an Achilles tendon injury he suffered in the 2019 Finals with Golden State.

Last season, they added James Harden through a trade from Houston, creating what was supposed to be a terrific roster. They lost to Milwaukee in the Eastern Conference Semifinals last season despite 48 points in Game 7 from Durant, who hit a buzzer-beating 2-pointer to tie the game in regulation. His toe was on the 3-point arc – the shot was only millimeters away from being a winner.

Rather than build on that near miss, the Nets have backtracked this season.

Irving refused to get a coronavirus shot, which meant he couldn’t play games in Brooklyn or Madison Square Garden for most of the season. The Nets initially decided they didn’t want a part-time player and said Irving wouldn’t play until he was eligible for all of their games. They abruptly changed course in January, and Irving began playing road games exclusively outside of New York and Toronto.

On Wednesday afternoon, Marks refused to reconsider this decision, while again stressing the importance of a player’s availability.

“When you have a player of Kyrie’s caliber, you try to figure out: how can we get him in and how long can we get him in?” said Mark. “Because the team was built around saying, ‘Well, Kyrie and Kevin are going to be available.'”

Irving’s absences made the Nets’ margins that much thinner. Every time Durant or Harden were injured, it meant the team lost two starters instead of just one. As they dealt with coronavirus-related absences, as many teams did, they had fewer players to rely on.

“There were a variety of teams there and the teams that still play to this day, maybe they didn’t quite have the breadth of excuses that we can come up with, but they also had to navigate Covid, they had to deal with injuries,” Marks said. “And if I’m going to be brutally honest, they sailed better than us.”

Harden tired of Irving’s absences and the challenges they posed. He was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers, who play Game 6 of their second-round series against the Miami Heat on Thursday night.

In trade, the Nets acquired Ben Simmons, who played no games for them. Simmons underwent back surgery on May 5 after magnetic resonance imaging showed a “hernia had extended,” Marks said.

When talking about the big stars of the team, Marks mostly talked about Durant alone. He said Durant was a draw for other players in the league – that people wanted to play for him. He said Durant was the best player development coach on the team. He talked about wanting to involve Durant in personnel decisions, without asking him to actually make those decisions.

“People think empowering players means you just let them do whatever they want,” Marks said. “That wasn’t the case when Steve was a player. This was not the case when I was a player in one of the teams in which we were. That’s not the case here. I think involving the players in key decisions at particular times of the season is the right way to do it. There’s nothing worse than having players startled by something.

Irving’s return to the team isn’t just in the hands of the Nets. He has a player option for next season worth $36.5 million and is also eligible for a five-year extension worth $200 million. If he declined his player option, he would become an unrestricted free agent.

He has shown his dynamism on the court in several games this season, scoring 50 points against the Charlotte Hornets in March and then 60 a week later against the Orlando Magic.

But what is the use of this explosiveness if he does not play?

“I think there’s been way too much debate, discussion, chatter – whatever you want to call it – about distractions and about things that are really outside of basketball,” Marks said. . “While we would like to focus on some of the things that got us here in the first place.”

Marks made the comment in his opening remarks at Wednesday’s press conference, before anyone asked him about Irving.

It was, however, in line with the message he seemed to be sending throughout his press conference. It was a message to Irving about committing in a real way, not just contractually, to a team that could have used more of him this season.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Kyrie Irving wants the Nets, but do the Nets want him?
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