For almost his entire career, Kyrie Irving has called the shots.
That’s what great talent will do for you, and there’s no doubt Irving is one of the greatest basketball talents of his generation.
That’s been clear from the time he was a 19-year-old from Duke and the Cleveland Cavaliers made him the No. 1 pick in the 2011 draft. It was clear from the time he was able to force his way out of Cleveland after he got tired of playing second fiddle to LeBron James. And it was clear by the way he so easily abandoned Boston, joining forces with Kevin Durant to form what was supposed to be a super team in Brooklyn three summers ago.
Irving has always marched to the beat of a different drummer, but he was such an incredible player that people put up with the noise. In fact, it leaned to his mystique. Artists are allowed to be a little wacky, and like him or not, what Irving can do on a basketball court involves a great deal of artistry.
So it didn’t matter that teams around the league knew about the headaches he caused in Cleveland and Boston. He was such a talent that it wasn’t a factor, especially after he teamed up with Durant.
How bad can it be? You could almost see executives around the league asking themselves that as they went chasing after what looked to be a franchise-changing free-agent duo. Well, the Nets won that sweepstakes and they haven’t won anything of real significance since. The team that was projected to win multiple titles three years ago has not made it past the second round of the playoffs.
Now, for the first time in his career, Irving is no longer calling the shots
This is the biggest takeaway from Irving’s decision Monday to sign a one-year, $36.9 million extension with the Nets. Unhappy with what the Nets were initially offering, Irving began shopping around for a new team to do a sign-and-trade with.
This time, there weren’t any takers. This time, league executives didn’t have to ask themselves: How bad can it be? Because after the season the Nets just had, they already knew.
The Nets, projected to win it all, followed a chaotic regular season with an embarrassing first-round exit as they were swept by the Celtics. Irving, who had played in only 29 games because of his refusal to get vaccinated like the rest of his teammates, had only one good game in the playoffs.
And so, in a strange way, the Nets and Irving are suddenly now on the same page. They both need to have big years. The Nets need to prove that all the machinations of the past three years were not in vain, that it’s not a rerun of the Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce trade in 2013 that set the Nets back for years. Irving, at age 30, needs to show the league he’s not only a great player, but that he’s a reliable one.
Sure, it’s technically possible that the Nets end up trading Irving since his contract does not have a no-trade clause. Yet, it’s a bigger upside for everyone to give him one last chance to win a title with Durant on the team he grew up watching.
And for all the drama the Nets went through, that’s entirely possible, especially if Ben Simmons’ back and psyche are OK. Even before Irving’s signing, Vegas oddsmakers had them as the second most likely team to win the title next season, right behind champion Golden State.
Exhausting as it is for their fans to go through all this, the Nets could have one heck of a season.