The Nets still are expected to win the NBA title, even without Kyrie Irving. No, make that: supposed to win the title.
But the Nets can’t worry about the pressure of being favored or the problem of their absentee All-Star. Both are just distractions in their quest for the franchise’s first NBA title, which starts Tuesday in Milwaukee.
“We’re working here every day and [trying] to play well and get better,” coach Steve Nash said. “All the narratives out there, that doesn’t really excite or interest us.
“We’re focused on what we’ve got to do here. I don’t know if there’s any benefit losing focus and following what people think, care, say. We just worry about what the people in this room say and care about every day and try to keep building.”
GM Sean Marks’ assiduous team-building gave the Nets the league’s best roster behind a Big 3 of Irving, Kevin Durant and James Harden. But with Irving refusing to adhere to New York City COVID-19 vaccination mandates, they are faced with trying to win without him.
“We’ve just got to focus on the guys in this locker room that’s here, that’s putting in the work every single day,” Harden said. “That’s all we can focus on.”
The Nets might not have Irving for quite some time, and they’re at peace with that. They still have Durant and Harden, both voted by NBA general managers as the best in the entire league at small forward and shooting guard, respectively.
They still are the betting favorite to bring a championship back to the city for the first time since the 2011 Giants, and first to Brooklyn since the Dodgers way back in 1955. But their margin for error has shrunk from a gap to razor-thin with their ceiling now lower. And it may take them a while to reach it.
“We all as a group understand this is a long year. We’re not expecting to win a championship early on, be at our best early on,” Durant said. “We want to get there, but we understand it’s a long process, and we’re looking forward to getting it started.”
This is based on getting little or nothing from Kyrie Irving, but Kevin Durant and James Harden having healthy years. Any of those things could change with a single vaccine injection or an awkward step. Still, whatever seed the Nets get, they’ll be measured by what they do with that seed in June.