Update: Kyrie Irving met with reporters today and is hoping to return next week.
The new year has not been kind to the Nets, and the misfortune may get worse during a season already in limbo.
While the undermanned Brooklyn squad had stayed afloat this season without top stars Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and Caris LeVert, the winning formula has gone awry. After starting the season 16-13, the Nets have lost seven straight games since Dec. 26, allowing an average of 111.4 points while scoring just 100.0 in that span.
Brooklyn had hoped to feel some relief when LeVert returned to the roster Jan. 4 after his seven-week recovery from thumb surgery, but his availability is still limited. From LeVert sitting out full games to overtime periods in the last week, the Nets are taking it easy in bringing him back to full power.
Now, in a season already lacking Durant, the Nets are faced with another decision—potentially shutting down Irving.
In his first appearances as a Net, Irving produced as advertised. He kicked off the season with a 50-point effort in a game the Nets ceded to the Timberwolves in overtime and went on to average 28.5 points over his first 11 games. The highlight-filled start gave excitement of what could come from Irving in a Nets uniform, but a right shoulder impingement Irving started to feel the effects of on Nov. 4 has kept him out for the last 25 games and has tempered already-shortened expectations for the Nets in 2019-20.
Brooklyn knew Durant would likely sit out this year due to rehab of his torn Achilles suffered in the 2019 NBA Finals, but Irving was expected to help lead and develop the young and talented roster in Durant’s stead. Coming off a 42-40 season and first-round playoff exit amongst a lineup largely composed of what once were project players, the Nets seemed like they were just one extra star away from making a leap. Irving was going to attempt to make that mark.
While questions have risen about the severity of his shoulder injury, Irving revealed in a recent press conference that he received a cortisone shot on Dec. 24 to attempt to stave off arthroscopic surgery—and a lengthy recovery period—in hopes of contributing to the team this season. But what once was an admirable Nets’ run in Irving’s stead has recently soured, and it may be worth it for Brooklyn to commit to the surgical procedure now and focus on bringing back both Durant and Irving for 2020-21.
The Nets would not necessarily be throwing away a chance at making the playoffs if Irving is shut down for the season. The team currently stands at eighth in the Eastern Conference, and if Irving, who has had his share of injuries in his career, were to return, he said he would not be reevaluated for another one or two months. That would leave Brooklyn with a maximum of two months of service time from the six-time All-Star in the regular season, and potentially the playoffs.
Surgery or not, the Brooklyn Nets were always going to be playing the waiting game this season—so how much would Irving’s absence impact the team? The Nets undoubtedly could benefit from his leadership and steady hand during this stretch that has seen poor offense and lack of composure closing out games. Nets fans also want to see him back in uniform after his absence has loomed longer than initially anticipated.
At the same time, the team has put together strong performances in his stead. Prior to the team’s current seven-game rut, the Nets went 12-6 following Irving’s last game on Nov. 14. Players such as Spencer Dinwiddie and Jarrett Allen have stepped up, but the team’s rotation has taken turns struggling with consistent contributions in the new year.
The Nets would prefer if Irving were on the court, and nearly an entire season without him is not what they bargained for after signing him to a four-year, $141 million deal. Still, Brooklyn is used to thinking long-term after working to rebuild the team over the last few seasons under general manager Sean Marks, and they would not want to rush Irving back, no matter the circumstances.
The absences of both Irving and Durant over the season would be a hit to the wallet without much return, but it does not diminish Brooklyn’s accomplishment of attracting the duo in hopes of contending. Many saw Irving and Durant’s signings as the wait finally being over for Brooklyn after recent tattered seasons, but it seems one more year of “What if?” may be in the cards.
The Nets have been accustomed to having patience, and committing to another year of it may be the right decision to ensure the future they have worked towards.