Spencer Dinwiddie Credit: Bill Moore photo

Kyrie Irving is gone. 

And so are the Nets’ realistic hopes they can compete for an NBA championship—unless something earth-shattering happens before today’s NBA trade deadline. 

The latter is unlikely.
Irving demanded a trade and was granted his wish by the Nets this past weekend, dealt to the Dallas Mavericks along with forward Markieff Morris for Dorian Finney-SmithSpencer Dinwiddie—who was a Net from 2016–2021, an unprotected 2029 first-round pick, and second-round picks in 2027 and 2029. The acrimonious divorce comes at a time when Irving was playing as well as any guard in the league and the Nets had legitimate championship aspirations.

Irving spoke with the media on Monday and was clear that there is no love lost between him and the Nets organization. 

“I just know I want to be places where I’m celebrated and not just tolerated or just kind of dealt with in a way that doesn’t make me feel respected,” Irving said on Tuesday in Los Angeles, where the Mavericks were preparing to play the Los Angeles Clippers, whom they faced last night.

“There were times throughout this process when I was in Brooklyn where I felt very disrespected and my talent. I work extremely hard at what I do. No one ever talks about my work ethic, though. Everyone talks about what I’m doing off the floor, so I just wanted to change that narrative, write my own story, and just continue preparing in the gym, and now that I’m in Dallas, just focus on what I control.”

What’s next for the Nets, who are 32–22 heading into tonight’s game against the Chicago Bulls at the Barclays Center? 

They are the No. 5 seed in the East, waiting for Kevin Durant to return from an MCL sprain sustained on January 8 versus the Miami Heat. He hasn’t played since and is now pondering life without Kyrie. 

The Nets cannot compete with the Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks, or Philadelphia 76ers—the East’s No. 1, 2, and 3 seeds respectively—without Durant having another bona fide top-20 player by his side. The No. 4 seed Cleveland Cavaliers are also demonstrably superior to the Nets after Irving’s departure. 

The Nets are still are playoff team, but how long will Durant—still one of the game’s best players—want to squander the remaining prime years of his career knowing he has no chance to win another title with Nets as currently constructed? The emergence of second-year guard Cam Thomas, who has scored 44, 47, and 43 points in the Nets’ past three games, isn’t the answer. Thomas is a valuable component moving forward, but Irving is special and, along with Durant, placed the Nets among the league’s best teams. 

When the Nets signed Irving and Durant as free-agents in July 2019, there was justifiable excitement and optimism in the organization and among the fanbase that a championship was a near certainty. Now the Nets’ immediate future is dubious and uncertain because the Irving-Durant era was an abject disaster.

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