Going The Distance

William Hamilton

Over a week later, the question everyone was asking before the playoffs is now one that continues to lurk: what becomes of these Brooklyn Nets? Steve Nash’s team has lit itself aflame once again, but who threw the match? They, of the highly touted scoring tandem, once briefly of a threatening trifecta that no team could think about stopping, could shudder? They could seek fate?

A 116-112 Boston Celtics win on Monday night sent the Nets packing. While they were busy making love with their egos, Ime Udoka was leading his continually resurgent squad to a sweep over a team many once considered to be NBA Finals favorites. It’s worth asking of this iteration of the team: do they seek fate, or does fate become them?

At this point, we’re only ever served spectacular failures, in the names of entertainment and also, they think, as pastiches of our own lives. Depending on your temperament, this may or may not include: the eh-questionable ejection of Draymond Green; the definite ejection of Dillon Brooks; the general state of the Supreme Court and everything that has led us to this point – which, if you’re smiling at that last bit, you may also think of fondly in the same way you may think of, say, the 1998 New York Jets, or the 1999 Atlanta MLB team, if you even remember them, or the 2004…or 2012…or 2022 editions of the Los Angeles Lakers, of course, and everything Doc Rivers has done post-2008.

Whether Steve Nash was “hand-picked” or not is irrelevant at this point; it’s that his relationships with both of Sean Marks and Kevin Durant may have landed him in the hottest seat this side of Myrtle Avenue. Kyrie Irving’s own proclivities aside, the motion to bring in an ex-Durant era Warrior coach to wrangle everyone else seemed to signal something.

For the entirety of his career – at least, for as long as he’s been healthy – Kevin Durant has defied logic as the scrawny, not-quite seven-footer who could shoot like Dirk, post up with Hakeem’s footwork and read a floor like Stockton’s more confident clone. Because he doesn’t quite fit so many traditional basketball tropes, he can embody any of them upon self-command, whenever his teams need it.

Kyrie Irving, of course, has his drawbacks; his biggest strength at this point, as Bomani Jones recently noted, is that Kevin Durant likes to have Kyrie Irving around when nobody else does; Durant is one of the very best basketball players walking the planet, of course, but at 33-going on-34, and with an uncharacteristically bad – for him – series now recently under his belt, his ear can only echo so deeply within the Brooklyn front office.

Even before he got his PR people on it, Andrew Yang felt like a Brooklyn Nets mark, across candidacies for various things; that their failures paralleled one another so closely brings to mind any Silicon Valley startup’s opening and exit strategies. Courtesy of new legacy media, we’re also now intimately familiar with seismic startup failures, so none of this is fresh. To wit: the Nets’ entire existence in Brooklyn has been in service to winning over those disillusioned with the Knicks, a once- and still broadly-successful team monetarily, but with no clear plan as to how to do so.

After all the hoopla, someone is going to have to take the blame. Whether it ends up being Nash or Marks remains the question, as of this writing. Nobody knows if Kyrie is going to be here, be elsewhere, or formally retire. Not once have we discussed Ben Simmons, the piece that theoretically ties everything together; that the Nets traded James Harden for him[1] may end up being a zero-sum trade, though as of now the Philadelphia 76ers are the winners, as a team remaining in the playoffs and with a high-value player actually playing.

After studying entrepreneurship in college[2], it seemed that the goal was to get to various rounds of funding, and everything else would fall into place. Two capital-B Billionaires have governed the Nets over the past thirteen years; the move to Brooklyn was supposed to call to mind the bootstrapping mentality that foreshadows unforeseen success, the kinds that create new industries, or play styles.

The Nets set out to be the Golden State Warriors, but better. Where have I heard this before? And where is it failing me now? The Warriors themselves stumbled for a time before returning as title contenders on the backs of – what do you know? The same labor that formed the core of a thrice-winning championship team remains there, even after the “there” has shifted.

Brooklyn traded their core for the present, which, if Inside The NBA is to be believed, currently includes Cancun. Kevin Durant himself has every right to remind detractors that he is literally one of the greatest basketball players who has ever lived, and I hope he does, because it is usually hilarious to watch him dress down some bot with nine numbers in their username; beyond that, though, his team’s context does become apparent, and the noise won’t lessen soon. The Nets need something else. They are not alone.

[1] I know there were others involved – hello, Seth Curry – but both teams entered the trade expecting something, at the very least, of both of the max contract players. Only one has appeared on a stat sheet, so far, and that same one remains in the playoffs as of this writing.

[2] Yes, I know how that sounds now, thanks.


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