It’s Now or Never for Kyrie Irving to Build Chemistry and Put His Imprint on This Brooklyn Nets Season

Just a thought here: Would it be better for the Brooklyn Nets not to have home-court advantage in the playoffs so star point guard Kyrie Irving could play more games?

Well, if that is, indeed, the goal, the injury-ravaged Nets are doing an excellent job of dropping themselves in the standings. Following Saturday’s defeat to the Golden State Warriors, the Nets are losers of four straight games, and they sit precariously at No. 6 in the East at 29-20. That’s probably not what the Nets had in mind now in Year 3 of having Kevin Durant and Irving and Year 2 with James Harden.

However, the time is now (or never?) for Irving to exert his influence on the Nets and lift them out of these doldrums. He won’t have the help of an injured Durant, and the return of Harden is iffy, but it’s time for Irving to put his imprint on this season.

Kyrie Irving being ‘Half Man, Half A Season’ has hurt the Nets ability to have any chemistry

Brooklyn Nets star point guard Kyrie Irving dribbles the ball up the court in the first half against the Golden State Warriors at Chase Center on January 29, 2022 in San Francisco, California. | Kavin Mistry/Getty Images

For the most part, NBA basketball players are creatures of habit and slaves to their routines. Many of them nap for the same amount of time, eat the same meal and listen to the same music on game days. They do their pre-game shooting sessions in the same manner and with the same coaches every time. And they sit next to the same players on bus rides and while at their dressing stalls in locker rooms.

With that in mind, it has to be maddening to James Harden, Kevin Durant and a Brooklyn Nets franchise that has star point guard Kyrie Irving only available for road games. Irving made it clear before the season that he refused to get vaccinated, and he wouldn’t even reconsider it after the Nets caved and let him return in a part-time capacity. There was hope after Irving saw how well the team played with the trio together in a recent rout of the Chicago Bulls that Irving would come around on the issue, but alas there was no movement. And the former All-Star point guard wouldn’t even sacrifice for the team’s good when Durant went down with a knee injury, and Harden suffered a bizarre hand strain.

Irving’s in-and-out availability led TNT’s Inside the NBA analyst Charles Barkley to disgustingly refer to the point guard as “Half Man, Half a Season.”

The Brooklyn Nets experiment of having Kyrie Irving play half the games has mostly failed

Instead of shopping Kyrie Irving around the NBA, where they could have avoided the distraction and embarrassment the star point guard has caused, the Brooklyn Nets caved and let him return on a part-time basis. He is out of home games, not because of some Draconian NBA rule, but because of a New York City ordinance banning unvaccinated employees working in publicly owned buildings. Irving is also out of games at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 16 and April 6 against the crosstown rival New York Knicks.  

As suggested in this space earlier this month, trading Irving could have fetched the Nets talent like Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons, young Dallas standouts Jalen Brunson and Dorian Finney-Smith, San Antonio’s Dejounte Murray, or possibly even Damian Lillard. There’s still time before the Feb. 10 NBA Trade Deadline to move Irving, but the Nets are likely stuck with their selfish point guard now.   

It’s difficult to pass judgment on whether or not the Irving experiment has worked or failed because the trio of Durant, Harden, and Irving have been together so infrequently. With Durant, Harden, and Irving together, the Nets are as dominant and dangerous as any in the NBA. Without one or two stars, they are nowhere close to being contenders.  

This much, however, is known: The Nets are 4-4 in the eight games Irving has played. Irving’s production is bigger in the four losses (27.8 PPG, 7.0 RPG, and 6.3 APG on 48.2% shooting and 40% 3-point accuracy). His numbers are down in his four victories (21.3 PPG, 3.3 RPG, and 4.5 APG on 50.7% shooting and 31.6% 3-point accuracy) because he hasn’t had to do as much of the heavy lifting. 

Available for five straight games, Kyrie Irving can finally build chemistry and cohesion

Kyrie Irving’s dazzling ball-handling and playmaking skills were on display on Saturday when he had 32 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and three steals. He was a plus-five in his 39 minutes on the floor, but it wasn’t enough for the Nets to beat Golden State.

It’s become clear that as dynamic a player as Irving is, he isn’t enough of a difference-maker to lift the Nets singlehandedly. Or maybe it’s his in today, out tomorrow disruption that hasn’t allowed the Nets to gel around Irving.

Now is Irving’s chance to build some much-needed chemistry and cohesion with his Nets teammates. On Saturday, Brooklyn’s game against Golden State was the first in a five-game road trip. That means Irving will be able to practice and play with his teammates the rest of the week for his most extended stretch thus far.

Games ahead at Phoenix (Tuesday), Sacramento (Wednesday), Utah (Friday), and Denver (Sunday) certainly won’t be easy. But this is Irving’s one chance to put his imprint on the season and do something that might take the focus off his distracting status. If Harden can return soon, the Nets should have enough offensive firepower to make this trip a successful one.

Irving will return to the in-and-out status after the NBA All-Star Game and in the few remaining games. However, this week — one that features four straight road games — should allow Irving his longest stretch of the season with his teammates. If he can mesh and get some help, the Nets can use this week as one that alters their course for the season.

However, if the Nets keep losing and Irving isn’t the difference-maker the franchise thought he was when they signed him, Brooklyn might end up as a road team come playoff time after all. That would result in more availability for Irving, but it’s still debatable whether that’s a good thing or not.  

All statistics are courtesy of ESPN.com.

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