After months of back and forth, protests, and outright refusing to get vaccinated, Kyrie Irving got his wish and was able to return as a full-time player in Brooklyn on Sunday. Irving scored just 16 points in his home debut, a Nets loss 119-110 to the Charlotte Hornets. All that build-up and noise about Irving being persecuted and how he should be able to play, then he returns and has a below-average performance, at least by his standards.
Irving is supposed to be the missing piece to a long postseason run for Brooklyn, but the Nets have other issues besides having a key player hokey pokey his way in and out of the lineup all season. The Nets no longer have James Harden to fall back on when Irving decides he needs time off for whatever the issue on that particular day.
Ben Simmons still has not played a game for the Nets after being traded well over a month ago. He’s been spotted at games, but there’s still no clear indication when he could make his Nets debut. Simmons is dealing with an apparent back injury, although he hasn’t checked into an NBA game since last summer. Nets fans should probably resign themselves to the fact that we probably won’t see Simmons in a Nets uniform until next season.
The Nets could have really benefited from having Simmons against the Hornets Sunday to help keep LaMelo Ball in check. Ball dropped 33 points on Brooklyn, plus nine assists and seven rebounds. Simmons is one of the best on-ball defenders in the league and surely would have made things tough for Ball had he played. Beyond that one game, the Nets are ranked 22nd in defensive rating. Simmons, whenever he suits up, will help improve that rating. The Hornets loss cuts even deeper for the Nets, since these teams will likely face off in the play-in tournament.
It’s really been one issue after another in Brooklyn since Kevin Durant arrived. He missed the first year because of his Achilles injury. Irving missed multiple weeks last season after the Jan. 6 invasion on Capitol Hill. Brooklyn trades for Harden, then barely a year later, he’s throwing in the towel on the Nets. This season Kyrie missed half the year because he became the voice of the voiceless. Now Harden is gone, and his replacement is yet to play with Durant and Irving. The Nets have been nothing more than a soap opera for two full seasons. Everybody knows KD just wants to hoop. All this extra stuff must be frustrating for him.
At worst, Durant is the second or third-best player in the NBA. As great a weapon as he’s been during his career, I don’t know if he can do enough to overcome all that’s gone wrong in Brooklyn. This franchise can’t seem to go more than two months without something dramatic happening to create headlines.
There are no more excuses for Brooklyn. Kyrie is back full-time, so that one goes right out the window. It will be an uphill battle no matter who the Nets face in the first round of the postseason, assuming they get through the play-in. If Brooklyn doesn’t advance past the play-in, it’s going to be a long offseason for this organization.
Remember, Kyrie once proclaimed they didn’t even have a coach in Brooklyn, so it’s time for him to back up all that talk. Ok, it’s time to be a leader when the Nets need it more than ever. I’d love to watch them succeed. I’m just not sure Irving has what it takes to lead ‘em there.