A few scattered observations from the Nets’ recent outdoor practice under the Brooklyn Bridge said just about everything you need to know about this team heading into the season.
Kyrie Irving looked as if he was having the time of his life, bowing to fans and basking in the over-the-top drama of the moment.
Kevin Durant had a hoodie pulled over his head and a half smile that seemed to say he intellectually understood the public practice was good for marketing, but he would rather be in a gym somewhere working on his craft.
And Ben Simmons, the newest member of the All-Star threesome? Despite the fact that a video of him shooting an air ball that day went viral, Simmons knocked down as many as anyone in the pseudo practice. In truth, like the new kid in school, Simmons spent most of the practice alone on the sideline spinning a ball on the tip of his index finger and looking for the best way to fit in.
Never has a team featured a more disparate, tortured and talented trio of superstars than Irving, Durant and Simmons.
Talk all you want about the porous defense, coach Steve Nash’s shortcomings and complementary players. What happens this season will come down to the play of these three unpredictable stars, which is why NBA general managers recently voted the Nets the most unpredictable team in the league.
If all three are at their best, the Nets should be playing for an NBA title. The ceiling is that high. But the floor also is incredibly low, as we recently saw when they were swept out of the first round of last season’s playoffs by the Celtics.
Here’s a look at each player and what he may or may not bring to the team:
Irving at his best: Even though he played only 29 games last season, mostly because of his unvaccinated status, Irving remains one of the league’s best scoring guards and one of the best dribblers in history. He averaged 27.4 points and 5.8 assists last season, shooting 41.8% from three-point range. If he can avoid injuries and other reasons for not playing, Irving has the skills to help push the Nets deep into the playoffs.
Irving at his worst: He’s home watching his teammates on television, as he was for the majority of last season. Irving often reminds us he’s not just a basketball player. He has a lot of interests, and it’s never been a given that basketball is at the top. Though he seems to enjoy the spotlight, Irving has never played more than 54 games in a season in his three years as a Net. Something weird always seems to happen when he is on your team.
Durant at his best: At age 34, he still is one of the best players ever. On the floor, his commitment and effort can never be doubted. Durant singlehandedly pushed the Nets into the playoffs last season by averaging 31.1 points after the All-Star break. Bottom line: Any team with a healthy Durant has the potential to be a contender.
Durant at his worst: How about this offseason? Durant first demanded a trade and then demanded that the Nets fire Nash and general manager Sean Marks to keep him. Sure, all three are back, but the truth is that Durant looked at this team and decided he didn’t want to be here. Though his effort on the court has never been in doubt, one has to wonder if he can maintain that if the team gets off to a bad start.
Simmons at his best: On paper, this is the perfect team for Simmons. The Nets have so many players who can shoot that they don’t have to worry that he can’t. Simmons has the potential to be a difference- maker on this team. He will vastly improve their defense and get his teammates a lot of open looks in transition.
Simmons at his worst: Simmons, who was traded to the Nets from the 76ers in February, hasn’t played a regular-season game for almost a year and a half because of back problems and mental health concerns. He seems ready to prove to the world that he got a raw deal in Philadelphia when he was blamed for the 76ers’ playoff loss to Atlanta, but the fact remains that he’s not the guy you want to be on the line in the fourth quarter of a close game.