The Brooklyn Nets will be tipping off their season in less than two weeks and they still don’t know about the future of one of their best players. ESPN’s report (subscription required) on Friday offered some good news: since the team’s facility is a private workplace, Kyrie Irving can practice there after all.
Still, Barclays Center is very much a public space, so we shouldn’t expect him to set foot in there unless he gets vaccinated against COVID-19. The hope of him getting the shot appears to be fading fast.
With no news of that happening, the possibility that the Nets will have to be without their All-Star guard for half the season or more is becoming more real by the day.
While giving it a go this season with a limited or absent Kyrie is far from ideal, would a season without him spell doom for the Nets? To get an idea, we’ll need to look at some key factors.
Do the Brooklyn Nets have enough talent without Kyrie Irving?
Obviously, it’s tough to replace the numbers you get from a perennial NBA All-Star. Irving averaged 26.9 points and 6.0 assists per game last season and was a big reason they were the top-rated offense in the league. Still, while his absence would have a huge impact, there’s still plenty of talent to go around in Brooklyn.
The biggest argument for the Nets’ talent still being good enough to succeed comes as no surprise: the presence of Kevin Durant and James Harden.
Fresh off another gold medal in Tokyo, Durant is rightfully seen by most as the best player in the world. Any team with him automatically shouldn’t be ruled out of contention. Add to that the all-around dominance of Harden, whose offensive impact is perhaps the biggest on the squad, and that’s still a heck of a foundation.
Sharpshooter Joe Harris now has yet another sharpshooting guard by his side in former San Antonio Spur Patty Mills, who might be asked to take on a bigger role than expected if Irving misses time. Let’s not forget about another former Spur in LaMarcus Aldridge, who’s a big that can stretch the floor.
Of all the things to be concerned about with this team, talent should definitely not be one of them.
What are the biggest obstacles to an NBA Finals run?
The last thing the Brooklyn Nets need this year is a season-long soap opera surrounding Kyrie Irving. While that wouldn’t be the biggest obstacle toward a run to the Finals, it should be an avoidable one if the front office handles the matter swiftly one way or another.
Beyond that, the Nets’ defense will need to improve to make up for their possible dip in offense without Irving’s production. Last season, they finish with the eighth-worst defensive rating in the league but their offense was so dominant that it didn’t matter. They won’t have that luxury again unless someone unexpectedly blows up in Kyrie’s place.
Of course, Giannis Antetokounmpo and the NBA Champion Milwaukee Bucks still pose the biggest threats to the Nets in the Eastern Conference. Even with Irving available for half of the series, the two heavyweights played each other to a literal draw until the Bucks finally pulled away in overtime of the second round last year.
With the additions of Kyle Lowry, P.J. Tucker, and Victor Oladipo, Miami could also be a dark-horse team to watch for in the East. The Philadelphia 76ers could make some noise too, depending on how the Ben Simmons situation plays out.
Can the Brooklyn Nets make it to the Finals without Kyrie?
The bottom line is the Nets have all the tools needed to still make an NBA Finals run. Even without Kyrie, they have two of the greatest players on the planet, and superstar power is what wins you ballgames and titles.
While it should never have come to this, the Nets very well may have to make do without their star this season. Will they need him to get where they want to be? Maybe against Milwaukee — but even then it would be a toss-up. But is it possible to reach the ultimate NBA stage without him? Absolutely.