If the LeBron James-era Miami Heat marked the peak of what player empowerment can accomplish in the NBA, look no further than the 2022 postseason for its nadir.
Absent: LeBron and the Los Angeles Lakers of his vision historically flamed out of the playoffs before they began. Absent as of Monday: A Brooklyn Nets squad built by, of and for Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, swept out of the first round in alarming fashion by the Boston Celtics.
The two teams that entered 2021-22 as betting favorites to meet in the Finals exit with a grand total of zero playoff wins between them. In a slugfest of historic NBA disappointments, it's difficult to discern who failed worse. And why choose? Both train wrecks are so grand in scale.
Irving plans on 'managing this franchise' alongside KD
If you ask Irving, he should continue to be trusted with the keys to the Nets franchise. In fact, he assumes he will be. Not an hour removed from Monday's seismic Game 4 loss, Irving was ready to run it back with the same folks who built this disaster tasked again with constructing whatever comes next. Most notably, himself. Along with Durant, general manager Sean Marks and team owner Joe Tsai.
In a postgame statement divorced from the reality of the daunting failure he played such an outsized role in crafting, Irving announced his intention to exercise his player option to remain with the Nets next season and beyond. He also plans to keep calling shots.
Kyrie Irving on a possible contract extension with the Nets and making things work with Kevin Durant.#NBATwitter#NetsLevelpic.twitter.com/NXr1g2hTyl
— 𝙏𝙖𝙡𝙠𝙞𝙣’ 𝙉𝘽𝘼 (@_Talkin_NBA) April 26, 2022
"I don't really plan on going anywhere," Irving said, addressing his contract situation. "This is added motivation for our franchise to be at the top of the league for the next few years. I'm just looking forward to the summer and building with our guys here."
Asked for clarification about his future with Durant and the Nets, Irving laid out his plans, which include "managing this franchise."
"When I say I'm here with Kev, I think that really entails us managing this franchise together alongside Joe and Sean, just our group of family members that we have in our locker room and our organization."
Did Irving watch this season?
Irving made his declaration without a tinge of irony or acknowledgment that he failed to show up to work for 53 regular season games, largely because of his own decision not to take a COVID-19 vaccine. Or that it was his self-induced, avoidable absence that can be largely blamed for the Nets being stuck in the position of playing as a No. 7 seed still "trying to jell" in April to begin with.
No, Irving regularly operates in his own reality. Why should postgame after Monday's should-be crushing disappointment be any different? Why should Irving consider what anybody outside of his reality might have to say or think?
"Sometimes I feel like the noise on the external world, that outside noise can seep in," Irving continued. "I'm not the type of person to allow that to happen."
No. No, he is not.
To be fair, Irving didn't completely shirk his role in what happened in Brooklyn this season. When asked directly about how outside distractions affected the on-court product, Irving acknowledged that his impact might not have been all positive.
"I felt like I was letting the team down at a point when I wasn't able to play…it became a distraction at times"
Kyrie Irving talks about the challenges the Nets faced this season pic.twitter.com/e4y702Miyy
— Nets Videos (@SNYNets) April 26, 2022
"I felt like I was letting the team down at a point where I wasn't able to play," Irving said. "We were trying to exercise every option for me to play. But I never want to just be about me. It became a distraction at times."
While it's mildly refreshing to hear Irving acknowledge the obvious, absent action that was required months ago to make an impact, it means little. And the actual reality is that the Nets are left with some unanticipated offseason time to get a head start on 2022-23.
Who's calling the shots in Brooklyn moving forward?
Next season — as Irving noted — will likely feature himself, Durant, Tsai and Marks. Will it include head coach Steve Nash? Irving failed to mention his name.
Durant scoffed at the suggestion that Nash might not return, strongly suggesting that the head coach's job is safe.
So the question looms. After this season's abject disaster, who's calling the shots moving forward? As absurd as it sounds considering this season's results, it's difficult to envision this version of the Brooklyn Nets without Irving pulling significant strings. He and Durant built this thing. As long as they're both in Brooklyn together, they'll maintain power.
And while that dynamic may not produce the desired results in the standings and the postseason, it most certainly doesn't produce boring ones.
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