A year ago at this time, the Brooklyn Nets were looking like not only favorites for the 2022 championship, but a possible dynasty ready to contend for the next several seasons with perhaps the best trio of scoring superstars in NBA history. Obviously, that is not how things played out. Kyrie Irving missed the beginning of the season and most of Brooklyn's home games because of a vaccine mandate. James Harden forced his way out. Kevin Durant got hurt during the regular season and struggled on his way to a four-game sweep at the hands of the Boston Celtics.
And now? It's looking like the Nets are set to break up without so much as a conference finals appearance to their name. Kyrie Irving has a player option that he must decide on by Wednesday. While his reported preference is to remain in Brooklyn on a long-term deal, the Nets are seemingly skeptical of committing to him for the long haul. Rumors have suggested that Irving might take the taxpayer mid-level exception to reunite with LeBron James on the Los Angeles Lakers if the Nets don't give him the contract he seeks, and if Irving goes, Durant could easily force a trade of his own out the door.
And if that's what happens? The Nets are reportedly willing to accept that. ESPN's Brian Windhorst said on television that the Nets "are prepared to lose both Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. They would rather lose them both than go through what they through last season."
First thing's first: a repeat of last season appears highly unlikely even if the Nets do run back the same roster. New York has lifted its vaccine mandate, so Irving is at least eligible to play in home games next season. That said, this is someone who has missed games with no explanation whatsoever in the past, and if he is unhappy in Brooklyn, it isn't hard to envision a scenario in which he picks up his player option, but isn't a happy camper throughout the season.
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The Nets could still agree to trade Irving upon him opting into his deal, or they could execute a sign-and-trade even if he opts out. Durant's situation is a bit more stable. He signed a four-year extension last offseason. While the Nets would likely prefer to keep him even without Irving, their friendship and the limited return on an Irving deal would likely fray Durant's relationship with the team beyond repair if Kyrie were to leave. With four years left on his deal, though, Durant would not have much room to force a specific destination.
From there, the Nets would have to rebuild, and they'd be doing so without their own first-round picks. Houston controls their selections through 2027 because of the Harden trade. If that sounds familiar, well, it should. The Nets went through the same thing last decade when the Boston Celtics controlled their picks and landed Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. It's too early to say that Brooklyn is barreling towards a repeat of that debacle, but things are slowly trending in that direction.