Supposed to be a force, Nets turned out to be a joke

NEW YORK (AP) — With Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden, the Brooklyn Nets expected to be the last team standing.

Instead, they were the first team to pack up.

Irving wasn’t there to start the season. Harden was long gone before the end.

And after their flop resulted in a first-round sweep by the Boston Celtics, the Nets recognized that all of their off-court distractions were holding them back from becoming a great team.

“We had our expectations. Everyone had expectations for us,” Durant said. “A lot of things happened throughout the season that derailed us, but I’m proud of how we kept fighting and keeping the faith and every day we were trying to work towards something. “

The Nets were sidetracked early on when Irving refused to get a coronavirus shot as mandated to play in New York. The Nets first removed him completely from the team until he could play in all of their games, then brought him back in December to play only on the road after an outbreak of COVID-19 left the team exhausted.

Shortly after, Harden started breaking down on Brooklyn. The Nets ended their Big Three experience just 13 months after creating it when they traded him to Philadelphia in February for a Ben Simmons headline package.

Simmons never played for the Nets, a combination of back problems and mental health issues ending hopes he would adapt during the series against Boston.

It probably wouldn’t have mattered anyway. The Celtics were a cohesive unit that improved as the season progressed. The Nets were an underperforming team unable to overcome their dysfunction.

“I think it was just very emotionally heavy, the season. We all felt it,” Irving said. “I felt like I let the team down at a time when I wasn’t able to play. We were trying to exercise all options for me to play. But I never want it to be just for me and it has become a distraction at times, and as you can see we just had some drastic changes.

Irving wasn’t cleared to play in home games until late March, after a city mandate waiver. At that point, the Nets had to overwork Durant after returning from a sprained knee ligament just to fight their way into the No. 7 seed throughout the play-in tournament.

They finished 44-38 but were still considered dangerous against top teams because of Durant and Irving. They weren’t, and only the incompetence of the Los Angeles Lakers prevented the Nets from claiming sole ownership of the NBA’s most miserable season.

And when it was finally over on Monday, there was a feeling of goodbye and good riddance.

“I know so many people wanted to see us fail at this point, picked us as their contenders, and have so much to say at this point,” Irving said. “So I’m just using it as fuel for this summer and going into this season from October and just getting off to a good start as a team, and hopefully we don’t hit any hurdles and that we can just start fresh.”

Other things to know about the Nets:

IRVING EXTENSION?

Irving is eligible for a contract extension this summer, after Durant signed one last summer. Despite missing all of his games over the past two seasons while uninjured, the guard said he was committed to the team.

“As far as my extension goes, I don’t really plan on going anywhere,” Irving said. “So like I said, it’s extra motivation for our franchise to be at the top of the league for the next few years and I’m looking forward to the summer and building with our guys here.”

SUPPORT FOR STEVE

Durant backed coach Steve Nash, who was criticized during the series for his inability to adapt to make things easier for his superstar forward.

“Steve’s had a crazy hand the last two years,” Durant said. “He had to deal with so many things as a head coach, a first-time coach. And trades, injuries, COVID, just a lot of things he’s had to deal with.

SUPPORT FOR SIMMONS

Simmons cited mental health reasons for seeking a trade to Philadelphia and not adjusting to the 76ers this season. Nash said the Nets will be there for the 2016 No. 1 draft pick as he works through this and hopefully gets on the court for them next season.

“He’s a cornerstone, so we want to help him feel good, play good and be part of this team,” Nash said.

HEALTHY HARRIS

The Nets should benefit next season from the return of Joe Harris, who led the NBA in 3-pointers two of the previous three seasons but missed the last 68 games after undergoing two left ankle surgeries.

NO REGRETS

Lineups with the firepower the Nets possessed don’t show up often, but Irving and Harden didn’t do their part. Only Durant, averaging 29.9 points, was the player the Nets needed. Still, he said there were no regrets about the season.

“(Things happen. No crying over spilled milk. It’s about how we can progress and improve from here,” Durant said. “I mean, we see we’ve been through a lot things this year. Everyone in the organization knows what we’ve been through, so no need, no time to regret or get too upset. It’s about finding solutions to improve.

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