This story is part of our NBCSports.com’s 2019-20 NBA season preview coverage. Every day between now and when the season opens Oct. 22 we will have at least one story focused on the upcoming season and the biggest questions heading into it. In addition, there will be podcasts, video and more. Come back every day and get ready for a wide-open NBA season.
The Nets built a strong culture of effort and development. They burst through ahead of schedule to make the playoffs last season. Then, they signed two stars this summer. When Kevin Durant returns from injury next season, they should be in the thick of championship contention.
They just have to get through this season with Kyrie Irving leading a young supporting cast.
What’s the worst that could happen?
Even by his own admission, Irving struggled to lead the young Celtics last season. He admitted his errors in January then again in March. Yet, problem persisted until Boston’s season ended. Both Al Horford and Terry Rozier said the Celtics couldn’t have moved forward with the same personnel. Irving doesn’t deserve blame for every issue, but he was central to many.
Irving is no longer in a contract year. That clearly added tension in Boston – especially because Irving pledged to re-sign then backtracked. The Nets are the first team Irving has chosen. The Cavaliers drafted him, and the Celtics traded for him. Maybe he’ll find peace in Brooklyn.
Irving also said the death of his grandfather shortly before last season hit him hard and contributed to his erratic behavior in Boston. As time passes, it’ll be easier for Irving to find acceptance. Not necessarily easy, but easier. Grieving can be difficult.
This is also a new set of teammates. Different people with different personalities get along differently. Perhaps, Irving’s leadership style will be better received by the Nets than the Celtics. One thing working in his favor: Spencer Dinwiddie recruited Irving to Brooklyn rather than gunning for the starting point-guard job himself. That bodes well for chemistry.
Irving also probably learned form his experience in Boston last season. Maybe he won’t single out his young teammates as often, especially publicly. Maybe he’ll determine leadership isn’t for him and defer.
But as the starting point guard and team’s clear best healthy player, Irving will naturally have leadership responsibility fall toward him. If he doesn’t accept it, that creates complications.
At minimum, Irving must become a better teammate. These issues date back to Cleveland and might be entrenched into his approach. As once former Celtics teammate reportedly put it, “He’s hard to play with. It’s all about him.”
Durant returning will change the dynamic, but Brooklyn must first get through this season. All eyes will be on Irving after he misled Boston last year.
Irving gets an opportunity to change his reputation – or further entrench it.