Brooklyn Nets: Kyrie Irving ready to lead Nets

Brooklyn Nets Kyrie Irving (Photo By Christopher Evans/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images)
Brooklyn Nets Kyrie Irving (Photo By Christopher Evans/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images) /

With Kevin Durant likely out for the entirety of next season, the Brooklyn Nets will need Kyrie Irving to become the leader he never was in Boston.

The Brooklyn Nets are back. After spending years buried in the depths of NBA irrelevancy, the Nets sent shock waves throughout the league by getting commitments from Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan to four-year deals.

The move is a testament to the incredible work that general manager Sean Marks has done over the past three years in turning the Nets into a desirable free agency destination.

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And while the Nets figure to be Kevin Durant’s team for as long as he remains a part of the franchise, KD is expected to miss the entirety of the 2019-20 season after rupturing his Achilles during Game 5 of the NBA Finals against Toronto.

So, for next year at least, Kyrie Irving will inherit the role of the Nets’ leader.

Irving will join a promising young core of starters and role players who overachieved last season and gave its fan base an exciting playoff run. Sound familiar? It’s nearly exactly the same situation that Kyrie walked into as a member of the Boston Celtics.

After demanding a trade from the Cleveland Cavaliers following their loss to the Golden State Warriors in the 2017 NBA Finals, Irving endured an injury-ridden debut campaign up in Massachusetts and underwent a season-ending knee injury in April.

His Celtics squad, led by youngsters Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, pulled off an impressive playoff run and ended up pushing LeBron James and Cavaliers to 7 games in the conference finals.

With everyone from that playoff run returning and Kyrie and Gordon Hayward both coming back from injury, the Celtics were billed as one of the teams capable of upsetting the Golden State Warriors at the start of the season.

The future looked even brighter for the Celtics when Irving, at a preseason season ticket holder event, proclaimed his desire to stay in Boston.

But in the months following his statement, the Celtics imploded. Irving struggled as a leader with countless reports discussing the unrest in the Celtics locker room at the time. According to ESPN’s Tim Bontemps:

"It was often hard for anyone — including the Celtics themselves — to get a proper read on Irving’s mood or thinking. It often left people in the organization walking on eggshells around him."

As the struggles on the court continued, Irving often took to the media to voice his frustrations, which had a negative effect on his teammates and made things worse.

After a loss against the Nets in January, his teammate Jaylen Brown seemed to represent the younger group of the Celtics and responded to some of Irving’s comments by saying:

"“We can’t make comments, we can’t point fingers, we just have to continue to empower each other and have each other’s backs. If we don’t, if we start pointing fingers, everybody’s going to go into their own little shells. We’ve got to continue to play basketball.“It starts from the top to the bottom. Not from the bottom to the top, but the top to the bottom.”"

Kyrie responded, in the media again, only this time he made a shocking confession. The former Cavalier, who had forced his way out of Cleveland just 18 months prior, called up his old teammate LeBron James to apologize for being the “young player that wanted everything at his fingertips.”

While he didn’t explicitly reference any of his Boston teammates for doing the same thing, Kyrie’s point was clear for all to see.

Irving’s stance on free agency too changed over the course of the season, and by Feb. 1, Irving had already reneged on his October commitment. When asked about his future, the former Duke guard said:

"“I don’t owe anybody s—t.”"

By the end of the regular season, the Celtics’ disarray was clear for all to see. Forward Marcus Morris summed up his thoughts about the team after a blowout loss in February:

"“We don’t have no attitude. We don’t have no toughness. We ain’t having fun. It’s going to be a long season … .“I watch all these other teams around the league and guys are up on the bench, they’re jumping on the court, they’re doing all other stuff that looks like they’re enjoying their teammates’ success. They’re enjoying everything and they’re playing together and they’re playing to win.“And when I look at us, I just see a bunch of individuals.”"

Given his failure at Boston and the uncannily similar playoff run last season, why is this Nets season with Kyrie going to be any different? Well, in all fairness, not all of Boston’s chemistry issues last season were Irving’s fault.

As Jackie MacMullan beautifully depicted in her piece last week, there were many other factors that caused the Celtics’ disappointing season.

After leading the Celtics to the conference finals in their first real year together, the core of Brown, Terry Rozier and Tatum allowed their confidence to balloon over the offseason.

According to MacMullan, Celtics coaches:

“… peeked in on the preseason pickup games and discovered young players who experienced exhilarating results the previous season by making the extra pass, but were now jacking up shots and running isolation plays.”

In Brooklyn, Irving won’t have that ego issue. Unlike Rozier, who was openly frustrated after being relegated to a bench role upon Irving’s return to the lineup in Boston, Spencer Dinwiddie has come to accept his role as a sixth man in this league.

Dinwiddie, too, started many games when D’Angelo Russell was out with an injury, but he never complained about his minutes when Russell returned, even though he often outplayed the former Laker and often finished games on the floor.

Similarly, the Nets were Caris LeVert’s team last season before an early-season foot injury caused him to miss a few months, but the ex-Wolverine had no issue taking a back seat to D’Angelo Russell when he returned to action in February.

Sean Marks has been very serious about building a culture in Brooklyn and has focused on adding high character guys to the organization like LeVert, Dinwiddie, Joe Harris and Jarrett Allen.

These are all consummate professionals who will be able to handle the change of adding superstars like Durant and Irving.

It’s not a coincidence either that Irving, after the dreary year he had in Boston, is joining the roster that his former teammate Marcus Morris referenced as jumping around and having fun.

The Nets’ bench celebrations took Twitter by storm this season, with videos and GIFs of the team enthusiastically dancing to made shots circulating around the Internet.

For the first time in his career, Irving had the opportunity to choose where he wanted to play basketball and he decided to take his talents to the Barclays Center.

This isn’t him being shipped off to Boston or being drafted by the Cavaliers, this is him choosing to come and play for his hometown team. Irving often referenced this choice in the video he released announcing his commitment to the Brooklyn Nets.

More importantly than anything, he seems genuinely happy to be a Net.

Kyrie said himself earlier this season that he was learning how to become a leader on the fly with the Boston Celtics. After failing to adapt in Boston, many have questioned his ability to lead this Nets team, but this situation is different.

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By surrounding him with complementary assets, both on and off the court, the Brooklyn Nets have put Kyrie Irving in a position to blossom into the leader he never was in Boston.