Aside from sick handles, after 10 years in the league, Irving’s
claim to fame was hitting one of the biggest shots in NBA history.
Immediately thereafter, though, it was LeBron James who received
the praise; it was he who was immediately crowned G.O.A.T.
As polarizing as they come, Irving left Boston for Brooklyn not
only in search of happiness, but in search of a legacy that would
no longer paint him as a player incapable of elevating others.
Before LeBron made his return to Cleveland, Irving accomplished
very little. And after his brief tenure in Boston, he was
remembered more for the things that transpired off the court than
for anything he achieved on it.
So when Irving decided he wanted to head to join a team that
featured young talents like Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen and Spencer
Dinwiddie, the hobbled Durant’s redshirt year meant that Kyrie
would get a head start on planting his flag. Rallying the troops,
helping them build upon the prior season’s success and showing that
he’d learned from his mistakes in Boston — there was a natural
excitement to face the challenge.
Together, albeit via different paths, Irving and Durant each
opted to take their talents to Brooklyn for the same reason — they
each sought to rewrite their histories. Sans LeBron and minus Steph
Curry, the super friends set out to accomplish something together
that would change each of their individual brands. No longer
beholden to The King and without the Super Team, they sought to
become champions yet again.
Then, James Harden crashed the party.
Sure, by combining to become the NBA’s offensive version of The
Avengers, the trio could have made sweet music together. Each is
capable of lighting up an opponent for 50 on any given night, but
we never got a chance to see them at the peak of their powers in
Buried in the excitement, though, was one important fact that
few recognized: Harden’s arrival put Kyrie in an interesting
situation. It is he who became the third fiddle. Kyrie gave up his
position as the team’s lead guard and sacrificed repetitions and
opportunity to do so. Without it being explicitly stated, Irving
was the one who assumed the role that Kevin Love once did, as well
as Chris Bosh before him.
It made sense — few would argue that Irving is a better creator
than Harden, but nobody could argue that the two have remarkably
similar skill sets, nor that each of the two will yield the highest
return operating with the ball in their hands. Relegating Kyrie to
a catch-and-shoot option or asking him to play without the ball
minimizes his greatest attribute. Because he’s not a plus-defender
or rim protector in the way Dwyane Wade was in Miami, the end
result would have certainly been Irving existing as an offensive
insurance policy who gave up way too much on the defensive end.
There’s no guarantee the three could have worked and gotten big
stops in big moments in the Conference Finals, let alone in a
It’s the complete opposite.
Perhaps understandably, with Simmons, it seems that we’ve spent
so much time talking about the things he hasn’t done rather than
that which he has.
There are few players that have his rare combination of size,
vision and passing ability. A one-man fast break, Simmons has long
made the rebound-turned-long-outlet-pass one of his signatures.
Slow and plodding, Harden made a habit of taking his time; Kyrie
was always most devastating coming at you downhill.
Simmons will unlock Irving and free him of the burden of being
forced to play in half-court sets down the stretch of tough games.
Free to roam, free to run and free to let it fly — offensively,
Irving will resume his place as the team’s second scorer — the role
in which he can be most effective.
On the defensive end, Simmons will help to protect Irving, who
nobody would ever mistake for Patrick Beverly. Irving will be freed
from ever imagining guarding the opposition’s top perimeter option.
Simmons is obviously nowhere near the caliber of scorer as Harden,
but the Nets will be just fine scoring, especially since Simmons is
a credible post player who will probably be encouraged to camp down
low, no longer having to worry about getting in the way of Joel
In some ways, Simmons and Irving are precisely what the other
needed — one is a scoring weapon, the other does everything
Better late than never, when James Harden decided he’d had
enough of being in Brooklyn, the Nets and Sixers eventually
realized each team had the piece needed to unlock the other’s
puzzle. As far as increased parity and dispersed star power, the
Eastern Conference and NBA at large benefits. But not nearly as
much as Kyrie Irving will.
It now appears to simply be a matter of time until New York
completely eliminates the vaccination requirements that have held
Kyrie out of far too many games this season. And when that happens,
best believe the 29-year-old will do all that he can to prove that,
in some ways, the wait and the distraction he caused was all worth
Irving walked across the Brooklyn Bridge not only returning to
where it all began, but on a mission to rewrite his story and
Sometimes, you get what you’re missing when you need it most.
And now, perhaps more than ever, Kyrie Irving needs a player who
can help him do what he does best.
For Irving, in many ways, Ben Simmons may be the answer.