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How will KD and Kyrie respond after a drama-filled offseason? These are the biggest questions still surrounding the Brooklyn Nets

The Brooklyn Nets gave the NBA offseason extended life. Every move the organization made, and didn’t, was scrutinized; every whisper, every tweet broken down by syllable as the league watched the turmoil unfold throughout the summer.

Kevin Durant, who on June 30 requested a trade, then requested the firing of general manager Sean Marks and head coach Steve Nash, now appears poised to start the season with the Nets.

The roller coaster ride continued, as guard Kyrie Irving fielded questions about his own future in Brooklyn. While speculation about a possible meeting with LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers filled the first week of free agency, no deal materialized.

Irving, who played only 29 games last season due to his vaccination status and New York City’s mandate, was unable to reach an agreement with the Nets on an extension, announcing on June 27 his decision to opt out. the last year of his contract, a player option. valued at $36.5 million.

Meanwhile, Ben Simmons, who was acquired just before the February trade deadline from the Philadelphia 76ers, hasn’t played in more than 16 months. After arriving in Brooklyn, Simmons missed the rest of the year as he dealt with mental health issues and a back injury that ultimately forced him to have surgery over the summer.

As the Nets head into their preseason opener on Monday against the 76ers, they appear to be on the same page for the first time in years.

Here are the five biggest questions surrounding the Nets heading into the 2022-23 season:


1. How will Durant respond to the Nets’ summer of discontent?

Durant made it clear after being swept by the Boston Celtics in the first round last season that he “has no regrets” about how the year turned out. “There is no time to regret or be too angry. It’s about how we can find solutions to improve, be proactive as an organization to improve,” he said in April.

What a difference a few months can make.

As Durant expressed his frustration with last season and how he believed some players were not being held accountable, he outlined exactly what he wanted to see moving forward after internal conversations within the organization.

“It’s just a teamwork thing,” Durant said. “… I felt like that’s what great teams do. I feel like we don’t have any respect on the court, and that’s what I want for us. Respect amongst the NBA community as a team for how we play on both ends of the floor. GM floor [Marks] all the way to team manager.

“I want that respect. I think you [get that] because of the way you work every day and we skipped some steps in the way we worked during that year last year because of circumstances: vaccine mandates, unhappy people, injuries. I felt like we could have continued to push forward, and that’s what I try to do as a player. I am not preaching something that I do not practice. I come here, every representative matters to me, so I want everyone to feel the same way.”

Since signing with Brooklyn more than three years ago, the organization has put Durant at the center of everything it does. That likely won’t change now either, but the way he approaches each day, with a team he didn’t seem to want to be on anymore a few weeks ago, will set the tone for everything else that happens this season.

2. Will Irving be a fully committed member of the team?

Irving’s decision not to get vaccinated last season hung over everything.

During the 2020-21 season, he took a leave of absence for personal reasons and was out of the team for two weeks. The hope within the organization, team sources said, is that without a vaccination requirement this season, and with the motivation of a possible contract extension hanging in the balance, Irving will bounce back.

“That first year he played more games than James and I [Harden]Durant said at the Nets’ media day on Monday. “So you can say he was more reliable than us that first year. And last year if it wasn’t for the vaccine he would have played. There’s no vaccine mandate this year. The year before I played him, he was very reliable, so once the term was up, I thought he’d be here every day. And he loves to play. He shouldn’t even have to say that. We all know that.”

When Irving is on the court, he has shown he can still play at a high level, as evidenced by the 27.4 points he averaged in 29 regular-season games last year. but he has also shown, at times, that he cannot be counted on. “He understands that for him to be a free agent and get what he legitimately wants,” Marks said, “he’s going to have to show commitment.”

3. Is Ben Simmons ready to play?

While the Durant and Irving stories have made most of the headlines in recent months, Simmons’ resurgence is arguably the team’s most critical variable if the Nets want to compete in the East.

Simmons hasn’t played a minute of professional basketball since the Philadelphia 76ers’ Game 7 loss to the Atlanta Hawks in the 2021 Eastern Conference semifinals in which the point guard received a ton of criticism from the public and his own teammates. for his passive game.

Simmons was traded to the Nets the following season and after offseason back surgery and missing time last season to treat his mental health, he must prove he’s still capable of playing at the All-Star level, and he has to learn. to play with a new team. For his part, Simmons said he’s confident both his body and his mind will last through the season.

“I’m glad I did,” Simmons said of back surgery. “It was so necessary. I don’t think people really realize where he was. That day he was supposed to play Game 4. [of the 2021 Eastern Conference semifinals], I woke up on the floor, I couldn’t move. I could barely walk. So I’m happy to be in this position, in this situation. I rehabbed myself and got into a place where I can compete. So I’m excited.”

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2:23

Stephen A. Smith takes issue with Kyrie Irving’s lack of commitment to the teams he plays for.

How he fits in alongside Durant and Irving is one of the most intriguing questions in the league. How you handle adversity is just as important. Simmons was quick to respond when asked what it’s been like practicing with both players over the last week.

“Unbelievable,” he said.

4. How does Nash respond?

In the midst of a season-long 11-game losing streak in February, Steve Nash walked into a training room after shooting practice in Salt Lake City and began describing how the team would break it. He referenced how he had carved out a career for himself by finding a way through whatever obstacles came his way, especially as a small shooting guard out of Santa Clara University, far off the NBA map. “I love this m—” Nash said with a smile.

Nash has spent his professional life within the NBA. He understands the scrutiny he can boil over when losses mount and things get crazy, but he also earned a Hall of Fame induction and two MVP awards during 18 seasons in the league.

“That’s professional sports, right?” Marks said, when asked about Durant’s offseason request that he and Nash be fired. “I’m sure there’s a lot going on behind the scenes. [Nash and I] they both lived on either side of that dressing room too, so we know what goes on inside the dressing room, and that’s completely fair…

“I understand clearly [Durant’s] frustration. I don’t know if anyone was more frustrated than the two of us. We are all in this. We all know what is at stake here, what is our ultimate goal.”

5. What are the networks going to do in the center?

Nic Claxton is the only center currently on the list who played rotational minutes (18.7 per game) last season. One much talked about option would be to use Simmons at 5, where he played just 8% of the time in his four seasons in Philadelphia, according to NBA Advanced Stats. Nash acknowledged this week that Simmons at center will happen.

“If he’s the quote, unquote ‘big loner,’ that’s a role we would definitely play him in,” Nash said. “But he is also our playmaker and point guard.”

While Simmons at center is the starter, Nash noted that second-year big man Day’Ron Sharpe will also get opportunities. After losing LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond, Nash’s options are limited, a problem perhaps best summed up by new addition Markieff Morris.

Nash said the 13-year veteran “is a 5 for us.” While discussing his role a few minutes later, Morris said that he was willing to help the team in any way he could, but added:

“I wouldn’t call myself a center. But if you want to put me there, Steve wants to call me a center, I’m a center.”


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