After winning a title with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016, Kyrie Irving has become one of the NBA’s biggest enigmas. Now he’s the Brooklyn Nets enigma. His season-ending shoulder injury has put several interesting chips in play.
27-year-old point guard Kyrie Irving joined the Brooklyn Nets after spending two seasons with Atlantic Division rival Boston Celtics. He was part of a star-studded free agent class that saw him join the Nets along with friends Kevin Durant and DeAndre Jordan. However, it hasn’t been a happy marriage. Brooklyn’s brass knew Durant would be ruled out for the 2019-2020 season, but they didn’t anticipate being without their darling free agent point guard Irving.
In the relatively small sample size of the 20 games Kyrie played for the Brooklyn Nets, Irving played well. He averaged 27.4 points, 6.4 assists and 5.3 rebounds per game. As a team, the Nets did not do well in those 20 games. They went 8-12 with him, and 18-18 without him. Since the six-time all star’s second and final departure due to a shoulder injury, Brooklyn is 5-3 for an overall record of 26-30, which ranks seventh in the very weak Eastern Conference.
While Kyrie is alleged to have brought over veteran leadership, “Uncle Drew” has not been big on the accountability front. In January, Irving spoke to reporters about his situation nearly two months after his initial injury occurred. According to Bryan Lewis of the New York Post, Kyrie said:
"“It just sucks, man. It really is disheartening when you’re working your tail off to be at a certain level and your shooting shoulder just starts to give out on you a little bit. You’re looking at it like ‘Hey, it’s just a shoulder. Let me ice this thing and get back out there.’“But you keep feeling something in your shoulder and you’re trying to explain it to the medical staff, explain it to all these experts out there. … I’m doing all these exercises and still nothing’s happening to get me back on the court.”"
Irving is a dynamic player when on the court, no one can dispute that. However, when a team inks a superstar to a four-year pact worth $136.5M, according to spotrac, they hope he’s able to remain on the court.
Dinwiddie steps up
The bright spot is that Irving’s injury has opened up more minutes for preseason “sixth man” Spencer Dinwiddie. A G-League success story, Dinwiddie has thrived in Atkinson’s system raising his scoring average from 7.3 ppg in 2016-17, to 12.6 ppg in 2017-18, and 16.8 ppg in 2018-19, which earned him a three-year deal worth $34,4M.
I’d argue that Dinwiddie, 26, will outlast Irving in Brooklyn considering his ability to thrive in Atkinson’s system and his ability to score at a high clip while getting his teammates involved. His numbers for this season are 20.8 points, 6.7 assists, and 3.5 rebounds per game.
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Regardless, owner Joseph Tsai has a ton of money invested in the Nets. They could “tank” and play less than stellar basketball the rest of the way. An unfortunate ending, yes. However, it could be a blessing if the team does well in the lottery. The Nets 2020 pick was traded to Atlanta at the 2019 draft but is protected if it falls in the top 14 (i.e. lottery).
The fanbase who’ve come to the Barclays Center in droves, to see all-stars actually play on the court in Brooklyn Nets black, shouldn’t want that. But what is best for the franchise? With college basketball competitiveness at an all-time high, the Nets could land a lottery pick who helps them next year when Durant and Irving are fully healthy and ready to make a run to the NBA Finals.
Nets fans, despite these trials and tribulations, you are going through, it could be much worse. You could be a Knicks fan.