Kyrie Irving: It Begins

Paramecium multimicronucleatum, a ciliate protist.

On Sunday evening, the Nets lost 134–133 in overtime on the road in Memphis. The Memphis Grizzlies, as you might be aware, are a team full of promising young players. They aren’t good yet, so this is a tough loss for a Nets team that has designs on the playoffs. Perhaps Kyrie had some thoughts after the game! Let’s check in.

Let’s take a deeper look at a few of these quotes.

It will become more cerebral out there on the floor.

What will become “more cerebral,” exactly? I think it’s fair to assume he is saying that the Nets, over the course of the coming weeks, will transcend the newness and unfamiliarity of their roster and begin to find mutual coherence in ways that are organic and initially unpredictable.

Welcome to the big stage, you know?

The subtext here is just glorious. Why is this the big stage? What stage were they playing on before? In what possible way could a meaningless, early-season road game against the Grizzlies be “the big stage”? The answer, of course, is that Kyrie Irving (and sure, yes, Kevin Durant too) is on this team now. His teammates can’t be used to the scrutiny that comes with playing with Kyrie Irving. Kyrie though? Kyrie is used to the big stage. He knows what it is like, you see.

Guys that don’t normally make plays—they were making plays tonight.

This one is so subtle you could almost miss it. See, what he’s saying is that guys on the opposing team were playing better than they normally play. Why might that be? It’s because his Nets teammates don’t have the experience, the fight, the je ne sais quoi, to step up when it really matters. Like, for example, on the big stage. Which, you know, is an October game against what is likely to be the worst team in the Western Conference this season.

I don’t know how many games you’ve watched over your lifetime. I know you’ve watched it a long time, but when you have the physicality and you have the mind, up here, from head up, you know your spots and you can play off instincts and your teammates can trust where you’re gonna be.

Listen, I don’t know when basketball was invented. I think it was around 2.7 billion years ago, when the first eukaryotic cells evolved: cells with nuclei and organelles working, for the first time, in harmony in and of themselves, in profound and gorgeous communication. That’s when I started watching. I don’t know about you. Physicality is actually mental. And the mind is actually physical. It’s right there, from the head up. I’m not sure I can explain it to you.

I’m covering J.A. J.A.’s like, “Thank you for having my back.” Of course! I’m supposed to!

Jarrett Allen absolutely did not fucking say, “Thank you for having my back” to Kyrie Irving. Nope. Find me evidence that he said this.

Welcome to the big stage, Young Nets!

2019-20 Previews: Brooklyn Nets

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.