Lessons from the Brooklyn Nets season of controversy

kyrie irving opening Acting in Brooklyn was distorted only by slippery feet. This was the final possession of his first regular season game – October 23, 2019 – against the Minnesota Timberwolves. With 50 points already in the bank and crowding in anticipation, Irving dodged Josh Okoji with the match hanging in the balance, before slipping and performing a pneumatic wheel, falling but maintaining his dribbling. He immediately appeared again and almost drained an unbalanced disappointment at the bell.

The Nets lost their season opener, but electricity was running through the Barclays Center. Brooklyn had his first bona fide star in his starting allowance with the Nets, someone who scored 50, 39, 37 and 33 points in his first 11 games before being sidelined by a shoulder collision.

But talent has a cost, especially with Irving. League sources say the executives, coaches and players who were present during Irving’s tenure in Cleveland and Boston shared negative information with the Nets — his unresponsiveness to coaches, his lack of self-awareness with teammates, his constant defiance of offensive game plans, and his lack of interest in playing ball. But multiple sources say the Nets knew that bringing Irving aboard was the cost of doing business: neither Irving nor Kevin Durant.

The Nets would surely acquire an otherworldly talent to pair up with Durant. For all of Irving’s fickle behavior, his production, shot creation and finish have been among the best in the league (11th in points per chance out of 40 players with at least 7,500 shot attempts since 2013-2014, when Second Spectrum began tracking).

But the team of Nets that he and Durant joined were a paragon of cohesion—a team of outcasts, low-drag shovels, and reclamation projects that overworked and embraced an effort to build from the ground up.

Over the course of the following year, many of the essential elements of that culture would be dealt with to get James Harden to form a super team.

By the time Harden grumbled his way out of Brooklyn, as he did in Brooklyn, the atmosphere at the facility in Sunset Park was very different—and the league took notice. Many of the league’s top executives assert that strategizing around chasing big stars doesn’t hold the same appeal as it once did. They’ve seen the likes of the Celtics in the Kerry era, now the Brooklyn Nets, the Los Angeles Lakers, and right now, the Los Angeles Clippers think they can accommodate the stars in their current structures, only to be frustrated with the results.

One unintended consequence of bringing in players like Durant and Irving is that budding cores often hear the specific message that management doesn’t fully believe in what’s being built, despite years of preaching the value of culture. As much as the organization believes that incoming stars will adapt to the culture of the team that preceded them, superstars often do not adapt to the cultures; replace them.

“Assembling a super team is something very few organizations can do,” says one senior league executive. “And we see that fewer can actually succeed because the superstars aren’t enough — they have to be the right superstars in the right culture. What this current era of NBA basketball shows us is that everything — whether it’s a large area or all of the Your loot – to have two or three of the most talented players in the league and have a poorly performing infrastructure or completely lacking roster depth, you’re doing nothing for your organization.”

No team serves as a more compelling study than the Nets, who are still looking for a sustainable breakthrough as they shed an accessory berth in the tournament. The Lakers didn’t get that far.

Postseason presents this poll – is the super team era over?