Well, here we go again, folks. We are three years into the KD-Kyrie era, and the private tour bus feels more like a school bus. Once again, the Nets have ended an NBA season without making any significant progress toward the Larry O'Brien trophy. In fact, it seems they are regressing, rather than progressing. Yet again, we are left to ponder what could have been and what should have been. Put another way, how is it that a team with one of the very best players in all of basketball (KD) and one of the most talented NBA players (Kyrie) could leave us feeling as if we had bought tickets to see Hamilton, but instead of Lin-Manuel Miranda, we were given a stand-in of Linus Van Pelt of the Peanuts?
I am being only a bit facetious in this comparison. The Nets were consistently the betting favorite to represent the Eastern Conference. Given the names on the roster when the season opened, that was a relatively safe bet. However, by December 2021, it was clear the Nets should not have been considered prohibitive favorites or, indeed, any kind of favorite. Arguably, one of the highlights of the season was the game in mid-December where "KD and the Kids" managed to beat a Sixers team that was, itself, overrated.
However, I have digressed. Quo vadis is a phrase from latin that essentially means where are you going? This is exactly the question that needs to be asked of this Nets team. Throughout the past three seasons, injuries have been the theme that most dominates. The Nets paid KD to rehabilitate from his achilles tendon injury in the 2019-20 season. KD did his best Jason Kidd imitation in leading the Nets to within an inch (almost literally) of the finals in the 2020-21 season. However, thanks to Giannis, Kyrie was injured and, of course, Harden's hamstring finally gave in to all the off-season (and in-season) partying of the Beard. In 2021-2022, Kyrie's selfishness led to a lot of injured feelings, chasing away Harden and any chance of team cohesion. Kyrie did note that the Nets would have been better off had they had the opportunity to gel as a team. Amazingly, he made this statement with no hint of irony or self-awareness.
This leads me to ask of Sean Marks, where are you going with this team? We were thrilled when Kenny Atkinson took a collection of bargain bin, factory reject, players and crafted a team that was greater than the sum of its parts. Allen, Dinwiddie, Harris and Levert were not household names, but they were ours. They made us proud to be Nets fans. They formed a culture and an identity that have been washed away in a tide of superstar adulation, self-concern and disaffection. As much as the talent level may have been increased in the last few years, it seems as if that is the measure by which our sense of a team has been diminished.
While KD has said all of the right things in public when it comes to forming a winning team (his game analysis seems particularly insightful), his shadow GM game needs to improve, dramatically. If the current tone of the words from Sean Marks is accurate, and the Nets are really going to hold Kyrie's feet to the fire, that will be a great start. However, if there will be the previously modeled backsliding, I do not want that version of the Nets. We need an adult to run this franchise. Steve Nash is clearly not empowered so to do and may be constitutionally incapable. Sean Marks has to step up the way Pat Riley has for the Heat, Popovich has for the Spurs and Ty Lue has for the Clippers. One more name should be added to the above list: Ime Udoka. How many of us believe we got the wrong end of that stick?
Where are you going, Sean Marks? Those of us on the bus with you would really like to know.