Losses: Allen Crabbe, DeMarre Carroll, Jared Dudley, D’Angelo Russell, Ed Davis, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Shabazz Napier, Traveon Graham.
Additions: Kevin Durant (but not until next season?), Kyrie Irving, DeAndre Jordan, Garrett Temple, Taurean Prince, David Nwaba, Wilson Chandler, Nicolas Claxton, Deng Adel.
Likely Starters Guard: Kyrie Irving Wing: Caris LeVert, Joe Harris, Rodions Kurucs Big: DeAndre Jordan (but it really, really, deeply should be Jarrett Allen)
Predicted Record: 45–37 | 12th in NBA | 5th in East
The 2019-20 Nets are playing in a kind of meaningless void this season while they wait for Kevin Durant to recover from an Achilles tear. It’s a shame, because this team has a lot of interesting players—many of them young and improving. For now, the central force here will be Kyrie Irving, a person for whom the term “enigmatic” probably is too kind. Kyrie will spend the year being good, sitting out a lot with assorted injuries, and delivering quotes that, if you take the time to suss them out, always will linger in the hazy blur between accountability and humility, never quite reaching either.
The Nets over the past few seasons, out of absolute necessity, tore their roster down to the studs. When they got there, they discovered something valuable: you can find good basketball players in surprising ways. They drafted and developed well, scouted the shit out of Europe, and took advantage of second draft talent like D’Angelo Russell. By 2018-19, they had a feel-good roster powered by good vibes, at least, if the talent was a little limited.
To say they pivoted this offseason is truly an understatement, but if I might immediately jump to playing my own devil’s advocate, isn’t it possible that Kyrie Irving is the perfect leader for a team playing through a lost season of existentially meaningless waiting? His style-over-substance predilections on the court—and I say this as a lifelong Celtics fan aware of all the trappings of that fact—will be delightful in a way, no? And then, when Durant returns, who better than Kyrie to bust out some sick solos off to the side while Durant goes about the deeply serious business of being truly great?
The most important moment of Kyrie Irving’s career—the shot to win the title down the stretch in game 7 against the Warriors in 2016—was exactly that sort of searing solo. The man has no fear because he has no awareness. He’s kind of on his own out there. If you haven’t had the experience of living and dying with Kyrie Irving, you can’t exactly know what I mean. When he’s at his best, when he’s really on one, his teammates and opponents and coaches are gone, and the crowd loves him, but the crowd isn’t really there either. He’s Harden without the ruthless efficiency. He’s Westbrook without the explosive competitiveness. He’s a frustrating tennis player who didn’t exactly have the career we thought he might have, he just happens to be playing basketball.
And what’s a little bit of a bummer here is that the team around him is cool. Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert, Joe Harris, Rodions Kurucs, and Jarrett Allen could have absolutely been the starting five of a playoff team in the East in 2019-20. I’ve got the Nets at 45 wins this season, and sitting here thinking about it right now, if you vanished Kyrie Irving from the face of the Earth tonight and left me with no memory of him and made me rewrite this preview tomorrow, I think I might change it to, like, 44? 46?
So, in the end, I don’t really know what to tell you about the Nets. I wish things were different, and when it’s time to think about the 2020-21 Nets, I’ll be ready to do that.