The new NBA season is here, and one of the league’s most intriguing storylines is how the superstar tandem of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant will fare in their first full season together with the Brooklyn Nets. The highly anticipated Irving and Durant era kicks off with a marquee matchup against Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors on opening night.
While the signs were positive for Durant in pre-season, how the two-time Finals MVP will perform after 18 months out remains to be seen. Like his good friend, Irving has had his fair share of injuries over the past couple of seasons, and controversy seems to follow the former Duke star, whatever he does at the moment.
Irving’s refusal to participate in team media availability several times over training camp was met with a $25,000 fine from the NBA, for failure to comply with the league’s media rules. Kyrie responded on his Instagram account with a now-infamous post that said: “I do not talk to Pawns. My attention is worth more.”
On December 4, Irving released an additional statement instead of complying with league media rules: “Instead of speaking to the media today, I am issuing this statement to ensure that my message is properly conveyed. I am committed to show up to work every day, ready to have fun, compete, perform, and win championships alongside my teammates and colleagues in the Nets organization.”
A now 28-year-old Irving has the eyes of the NBA world on him this season. Fans know the level of brilliance the six-time All-Star can provide on his day, but all too often in recent years, we have only seen flashes of brilliance, and this season that has to change.
As Uncle Drew’s controversial statement suggests, he is ready to compete on the highest level once again and alongside a perennial MVP candidate in Kevin Durant, expectations are sky-high and rightly so.
However, this season holds added significance as Irving’s career has stagnated somewhat since his trade away from Cleveland in 2017. Arguably, the biggest issue this season will be his ability to stay healthy. Injuries have plagued Irving throughout his career and having failed to play in more than 70 games in six of his nine NBA seasons – the warning signs are clear.
Despite playing just 87 games in the past two seasons, the superstar managed to record two 50-point games and averaged 27.4 points per game in 20 games last season, before going down with yet another injury.
Irving etched his name into NBA immortality with his spectacular 2016 NBA Finals performance and the shot heard around the world in the final minutes of Game 7. The very best of Irving was seen alongside LeBron James and this season he has the chance to reach similar heights, alebit side-by-side with a different type of former MVP.
Irving manufactured a move to the Boston Celtics in the hope of leading a team to championship glory, but for various reasons, it didn’t work. Despite some statistically brilliant seasons, he left Boston being subsequently labelled as a ‘disruptive force.’
Neither Irving nor Durant have ever been identified as the outright leader on a team, and maybe, in the end, that won’t affect whether they win or not. But it is certainly an interesting aspect of this Nets team to keep an eye on as the season progresses.
Irving gets another chance to prove his leadership abilities, and having signed a four-year contract in July 2019, he will certainly be given the time to make it work.
Since the exploits of the 2016 Finals, Irving has flattered to deceive. The most successful period of his career was as a number two option, and as he returns to that role, we could well see the very best version of Irving yet.
Seemingly back fully healthy alongside Durant, Uncle Drew is heading into the prime years of his career, and the pressure is on to produce one of his best seasons. The time for talking is done; Irving has to do what he does best and remind the league what he is capable of.
Expectations will be championship or bust, and with neither Durant nor Irving proven leaders, fireworks are a certainty in Brooklyn this year. With Irving desperate to prove he can win without LeBron this could well be a career-defining season for one of the league’s great showmen.