The Brooklyn Nets gave the NBA offseason an extended life. Every step the organization made – and didn’t take – was investigated; every whisper, every tweet broken down to the syllable as the league watched the turmoil unfold all summer.
Kevin Durant, who requested a trade on June 30 and then requested the firing of general manager Sean Marks and head coach Steve Nash, now appears ready to start the season with the Nets.
The roller coaster ride continued as guard Kyrie Irving addressed questions about his own future in Brooklyn. While speculation about a possible LeBron James and Los Angeles Lakers reunion occupied the first week of free agency, no deal materialized.
Irving, who only played 29 games last season due to his vaccination status and New York City’s mandate, failed to agree an extension with the Nets and on June 27 announced his decision to resign for the final year of his contract decide a player option worth $36.5 million.
Meanwhile, Ben Simmons, who was acquired by the Philadelphia 76ers just before the February close, has not played in over 16 months. After arriving in Brooklyn, Simmons missed the rest of the year while dealing with mental health issues and a back injury that eventually forced him to have surgery over the summer.
As the Nets go into their preseason opener against the 76ers on Monday, they appear to be on the same page for the first time in years.
Here are the five biggest questions about the Nets in the 2022-23 season:
1. How will Durant respond to the Nets’ summer of discontent?
Durant made it clear after being defeated by the Boston Celtics in the first round last season that he had “no regrets” about the way the year went. “No time to feel sorry or be too mad. It’s about how we can find solutions to get better, proactively as an organization to get better,” he said in April.
What a difference a few months can make.
Venting his frustration with last season and the way he felt some players weren’t being held accountable, Durant outlined exactly what he wanted to see after internal discussions within the organization.
“It’s just a matter of team building,” Durant said. “…I just felt like great teams do that. I feel like we don’t have any respect out there on the pitch and I want that for us. Respect in the NBA community as a team for how we play on both ends of the GM floor [Marks] to the device manager.
“I want that respect. I think you [get that] how you work every single day and we have skipped some steps in our way of working over the past year due to circumstances – vaccination requirements, angry people, injuries. I felt like we could have just kept pushing forward and that’s what I try to do as a player. I don’t preach anything I don’t practice. I come here, every rep is important to me, so I want it to be the same for everyone.”
Since he signed with Brooklyn over three years ago, the organization has placed Durant at the center of everything it does. That probably won’t change now either – but how he approaches each day with a team that just a few weeks ago he seemed unwilling to be a part of will set the tone for everything else that happens this season.
2. Will Irving be a fully committed member of the team?
Irving’s decision not to get vaccinated last season hung above all.
In the 2020/21 season he took a leave of absence for personal reasons and was away from the team for two weeks. The hope within the organization, team sources say, is that Irving will bounce back without being vaccinated this season and with the motivation of a possible contract extension hanging in the balance.
“In that first year he played more games than me and James [Harden]’ Durant said Monday at the Nets media day. “So you can say he was more reliable than us in the first year. And last year he would have played without the vaccine. There is no vaccination mandate this year. The year I’ve played with him before, he’s been very reliable, so I figured he’ll be here every day once the mandate is up. And he loves to play. I shouldn’t have to say that. We all know that.”
When Irving is on the ground, he’s shown he can still play at a high level, as evidenced by the 27.4 points he scored in 29 regular-season games last year. but sometimes he has also shown that you cannot rely on him. “He understands that in order for him to be a free agent and get what he rightfully wants, he has to show commitment,” Marks said.
3. Is Ben Simmons ready to play?
While the stories of Durant and Irving have grabbed most of the headlines in recent months, Simmons’ reemergence is arguably the team’s most critical variable if the Nets are to compete in the east.
Simmons has not played a minute of professional basketball since the Philadelphia 76ers lost Game 7 to the Atlanta Hawks in the semifinals of the 2021 Eastern Conference, in which the point guard drew much criticism from the public and his own teammates for his passive play.
Simmons was traded to the Nets the following season and after off-season back surgery and a lack of time last season to improve his sanity, he needs to show he’s still capable of aiming for All-Star level to play – and must learn to play with a new team. For his part, Simmons said he’s confident both his body and mind will hold out throughout the season.
“I’m glad I did it,” Simmons said of the back surgery. “It was urgently needed. I don’t think people really know where I’ve been. That day I was supposed to play game 4 [of the 2021 Eastern Conference semifinals], I woke up on the floor, I couldn’t move. I could hardly walk. So I’m glad to be in this position, in this situation. I rehabilitated myself and put myself in a place where I can compete. So I’m excited.”
Stephen A. Smith criticizes Kyrie Irving’s lack of commitment to the teams he plays for.
How he fits in alongside Durant and Irving is one of the league’s most intriguing questions. How he handles adversity is just as important. Simmons was quick to respond when asked how it had been training with both players over the past week.
“Incredible,” he said.
4. How does Nash react?
In the midst of a season-long 11-game losing streak in February, Steve Nash walked into a practice room after a shooting in Salt Lake City and began describing how the team would break it up. He referenced how he’d made a career out of finding a way through whatever obstacles came his way — particularly as an undersized guard at Santa Clara University, far from the NBA card. “I love this S—” said Nash with a smile.
Nash has spent his professional life in the NBA. He understands the trial that can boil when losses mount and things go haywire — but he’s also earned a Hall of Fame induction and two MVP awards in 18 seasons in the league.
“It’s professional sport, right?” Marks said when asked about Durant’s off-season request that he and Nash will both be fired. “I’m sure there are a lot of things going on behind the scenes. [Nash and I] both also lived on either side of that dressing room so we know what happens in the dressing room and that’s totally fair…
“I understand completely [Durant’s] Frustration. I don’t know if there was anyone more frustrated than both of us. We’re all in. We all know what’s at stake here, what our ultimate goal is.”
5. What will the nets in the center do?
Nic Claxton is currently the only center on the roster to have played minutes of rotation (18.7 per game) last season. A much-discussed option would be putting Simmons at the 5, where he played just 8% of the time in his four seasons in Philadelphia, according to NBA Advanced Stats. Nash admitted this week that Simmons will take place at center.
“If he’s the quote, unquote ‘lone big,’ that’s a role we would definitely play him in,” Nash said. “But he’s also our playmaker and point guard.”
While Simmons is the center headline, Nash noted that Day’Ron Sharpe, the big man sophomore, will also have chances. After losing LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond, Nash’s choices are limited – a problem perhaps best summed up by new signing Markieff Morris.
Nash said the 13-year veteran was “a 5 for us.” While discussing his role a few minutes later, Morris said he was open to helping the team in any way he could, but added:
“I wouldn’t call myself a center. But if you want to take me there, Steve wants to call me a center, I’m a center.”
https://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/34685777/how-kd-kyrie-respond-drama-filled-offseason-here-biggest-questions-surrounding-brooklyn-nets How will KD and Kyrie respond after a drama-filled offseason? Here are the biggest questions still surrounding the Brooklyn Nets