For as much heat as the Lakers took for their disappointing 2021-22 season, the Brooklyn Nets have made an 11th-hour case as even bigger underachievers. Sure, the Russell Westbrook experiment went epically awry, like a shot off the side of the backboard, but there was something especially embarrassing about the Nets getting swept in a series that saw Ben Simmons sitting courtside dressed in a Tune Squad-colored outfit that could be seen from outer space.
Simmons had every reason to blend in and not be the center of attention, but he effectively did the opposite and now these pictures live forever on Elon Musk's internet.
So many takes about how good the Nets were and could be were dismantled suddenly. Just six days ago, Tracy McGrady suggested Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving were the most skilled duo of all time, and amazingly LeBron James and Dwyane Wade agreed. And, sure they might have a case, if you exclude the defensive end entirely and ignore the fact Durant also played with Stephen Curry. But ultimately that was a completely meaningless claim. Jayson Tatum is also very skilled in his own right and he just outplayed both players en route to a Celtics sweep.
Durant is certainly taking a lot of the fallout from the Nets' loss, which is going to happen if you are the best player on your team and especially one of his stature. While he is a certified all-time great, this simply isn't going to reflect well on a guy who joined Curry to win titles and hasn't gotten close since he left.
On one hand, though, it should be noted Durant was completing his second NBA season in a span of 16 months after coming off surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles. He also played in the Summer Olympics during the brief offseason in between and led the U.S. to a gold medal. Regardless of the results, him making it this far is a positive for the game of basketball.
But after this, you have to wonder which direction the Nets will turn. They just got swept out of the first round. Can they in good conscience just run it back?
That would mean bringing Durant, Irving and Simmons back as a trio and keeping head coach Steve Nash. Whether that will happen is anyone's guess at the moment.
You could see the reasoning for why they would go that route, at least with the roster. Durant and Irving are a very good scoring combination and Irving won't have to deal with the vaccine requirement that kept him out of home games for the majority of this season.
While those two have big questions defensively, they would be joining forces with one of the best and most versatile defenders in the league in Simmons. He was first-team All-Defense in each of the last two seasons he played. On paper, it makes sense.
In addition to that trio, they would get sharpshooter Joe Harris back after he missed basically all of this past season due to an ankle injury. The Nets would also have recent first round picks Day'Ron Sharpe and Cam Thomas one year older.
As big of a disaster as the Nets became this season, odds are they would be much better if Durant and Irving can stay on the floor and if Simmons actually plays for them. It would just get really expensive, as ESPN's Bobby Marks notes their overall salary and tax bill could go from $266 million to $330 million.
Let's say they didn't run it back, though. Things could hinge on Irving, who has a player option worth $36.5 million for next season. He has stated his intention to return and keep playing with Durant and the Nets have not shown any indication they want to move on. He's very good and in his prime at 30 years old.
If Irving did opt out, he would be the most accomplished free agent on the market in a class that could include Zach LaVine and Bradley Beal. It would change the landscape dramatically. Even though Irving has become a controversial figure, he would have plenty of interest and suitors around the league. (The Wizards happen to be in need of a point guard themselves. Hey, just stating the facts.)
But realistically, the Nets may have to just rewind the tape and give it another shot. Durant's not going anywhere and it's hard to see Simmons getting traded again, especially with where his value is now after the way things ended this year. And could they do better than Irving? Probably not.
One thing's for sure, it's going to be a fascinating offseason in Brooklyn. They are coming off a letdown that will go down in the history books and Durant will be 34 in September. How do they fix it?