At around 6:00 pm on Sunday, June 30, 2019, word began to spread
that free agents Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving had decided to team
up and join forces in Brooklyn. It was hailed as one of the most
important and impactful days in the history of the Nets as a
Despite the fact that KD was recovering from an Achilles tear,
expectations in Brooklyn were sky-high. Euphoric Nets fans were
incredibly optimistic, dreaming of the imminent success this
dynamic duo would enjoy.
Yet, with both KD and Kyrie sidelined by injury during the 2020
postseason, Brooklyn was swept out of the playoffs by the Toronto
Raptors that first year.
Nevertheless, expectations ratcheted up even further once Nets
fans watched Durant return fully healthy in 2020-21. And that
optimism reached a fever pitch when the team added a third future
Hall-of-Famer, James Harden, in mid-January 2021.
However, Kyrie injured his ankle in Game 4 of the Nets'
second-round series vs. the Milwaukee Bucks last postseason, and
Harden was nursing a hamstring injury that prevented him from
playing at full strength. KD put the team on his back and played
brilliantly, but the Nets eventually lost Game 7 at home to Giannis
Antetokounmpo and the eventual NBA champions.
Still, the team and its fan base were incredibly hopeful heading
into the 2021-22 campaign. And for good reason, as KD, Kyrie and
Harden were all healthy. Brooklynites were convinced this would be
the year their team would advance to the Finals and capture the
Larry O'Brien trophy, and sportsbooks in Las Vegas agreed with
them, installing the Nets as the heavy preseason favorite to win
the NBA title.
Things got off to a rocky start.
Irving decided to reject the advice of medical experts and
refused to get vaccinated against COVID-19. As a result, due to New
York City vaccine mandates, Irving could not play in home games.
Consequently, in early October, Nets general manager Sean Marks and
team owner Joe Tsai informed Irving that he couldn't rejoin the
team — for games or practices — until he was vaccinated.
"He has a choice to make, and he made his choice," Marks stated.
"My job here is to make what we deem as the best choices for the
organization moving ahead as a whole... We're looking at putting a
group of people that are going to be able to participate fully.
That's what this comes down to, and we're not looking for partners
that are going to be half-time."
In November, Tsai told the New York Post: "Kyrie talks about it
as a sort of personal choice issue, which I respect. But we all
need to not forget our goal. A championship team needs to have
everybody pulling the same direction."
Even without Irving, the Nets got off to a strong start, winning
21 of their first 29 games. Durant was playing at an MVP level over
the first two months of the season, averaging 29.7 points (on 52%
shooting), 7.9 rebounds and 5.9 rebounds. Brooklyn had the best
record in the Eastern Conference through the first 30 games of the
However, in mid-December, a COVID outbreak decimated the Nets'
depth. Durant, Harden De'Andre Bembry, Bruce Brown, Jevon Carter,
LaMarcus Aldridge, James Johnson and Paul Millsap were all placed
in health and safety protocols. Unnerved, the Nets front office
relented and decided to welcome Irving back to the team.
With KD, Kyrie and Harden reunited, NBA pundits and oddsmakers
once again predicted Brooklyn's immense collection of talent would
carry them to a title.
However, the Nets' Big Three never seemed to get on the same
page. In a Jan. 15 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans, Durant
sprained the MCL in his left knee. The injury would sideline KD for
six weeks. By late January, rumors began to surface that Harden was
fed up with the circus-like atmosphere and wanted out of
On Feb. 2, Brooklyn was beaten badly by the lowly Sacramento
Kings, and Harden's effort (or lack thereof) was appalling. In what
would be his final appearance in a Nets uniform, The Beard finished
with 4 points on 2 of 12 shooting.
On the day of the trade deadline, Brooklyn shipped Harden to the
Sixers in exchange for Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond and
two first-round picks.
Following the blockbuster deal, the Nets remained the consensus
favorites to win the 2022 NBA title. Caesars Sportsbook elected to
keep the Nets' odds at 4-1 after the trade, ahead of the Golden
State Warriors (9-2), Phoenix Suns (5-1) and Bucks (7-1).
In his introductory press conference with Brooklyn, Simmons said
he was looking forward to returning to action.
"I feel physically pretty good," Simmons told reporters.
"Mentally, I'm getting there, so it's an ongoing thing to stay on
top of that. But I think I'm heading in the right direction."
As we now know, Simmons would not set foot on an NBA court all
season. Drummond, who provided much-needed rebounding help for
Brooklyn early on, was essentially unplayable by the time the
playoffs arrived (he logged less than 4 minutes of action in the
Nets' season-ending loss Monday night).
Once Durant returned from his knee injury, Brooklyn got back on
track and went 6-1 over a seven-game span in mid-March. Kyrie hung
50 on the Hornets in Charlotte on March 8. KD poured in a
season-high 53 points in Brooklyn's victory over the New York
Knicks on March 13. Two nights later, Irving scored a
franchise-record 60 points in a blowout win over the Orlando
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Irving and Durant became
the first pair of teammates in NBA history to score 50 points in
consecutive games. KD and Kyrie are also just the second duo to
record multiple 50-point games in a season, joining Jerry West and
Elgin Baylor, who accomplished the feat for the 1961-62 Los Angeles
Then, in late March, New York mayor Eric Adams altered the
city's vaccine mandate, clearing the way for Irving to play in home
games. Adams, who initially stated that "it would send the wrong
message" to give Irving an exemption when the city's other
employees were still subject to the same mandate, said the revised
decision was "about putting New York city-based performers on a
level playing field."
Thus, the Nets would enter the postseason with their two top
guns available (and Irving fresh/well-rested after being a
part-time player for most of the season).
Yet, as it turned out, the disjointed Nets were no match for a
unified Celtics team that had spent the past three months building
its chemistry on both ends of the court.
Boston swept Brooklyn out of the playoffs, effectively locking
up both Kyrie and KD.
Durant played well in Game 4, but disappeared in Game 3 on
Saturday night. KD was shockingly passive the entire evening,
finishing the must-win contest with just 16 points on 6 of 11
shooting; his lack of aggression and intensity was stunning. In
that contest, the most important game of the Nets season, Durant —
a four-time scoring champion and two-time Finals MVP — finished
with 10 fewer points and 8 fewer field-goal attempts than
Incredibly, over Game 2 and Game 3 combined, Brown scored more
points (49) and grabbed more rebounds (16) than both Durant (43
points/12 boards) and Irving (26 points/12 boards).
Irving closed out his season averaging 15.3 points while
shooting just 37.2% from the floor and 18.2% from three-point
territory over the final three games of the series.
Being swept out of the playoffs in the first round would have
been considered almost unimaginable at the start of the season, or
really at any point over the past 12 months, assuming KD and Kyrie
were both healthy.
In fact, SportsBetting.ag confirmed to BasketballNews.com that
the Nets are the first NBA team ever to enter a season as the
favorite to win a title, yet fail to win a single playoff
It's not hyperbole to suggest that the 2021-22 Brooklyn Nets
will go down as arguably the most disappointing team in the history
of the National Basketball Association.
That's not the all-time legacy Brooklynites were anticipating
this squad would be remembered for. Dating back to the 2021
postseason, the Nets are 1-8 in their last last nine playoff
The unforgettable Sunday afternoon in June 2019, when Durant and
Irving revealed they were teaming up, was 1,030 days ago.
Imagine telling enthusiastic Nets fans back then that KD, Kyrie
and company would win only one playoff series (and a grand total of
seven playoff games) over the subsequent three seasons.