Brooklyn Nets acknowledge toll of off-field issues as season ends with first-round sweep by Boston Celtics

NEW YORK – Following their season-ending sweep by the Boston Celtics, the Brooklyn Nets officially acknowledged Monday night what has been apparent throughout their season: Any issues they have dealt with off the floor have had a big impact on the way they play. above.

“I think it’s been really, really emotional this season,” Nets guard Kyrie Irving said after their Game 4 loss 116-112. “We all felt it. I felt like I was letting the team down to a point where I couldn’t play. We were trying to exercise all the options for me to play, but I never wanted to let it be just about me. And I think it’s become a distraction at times. And as you can see, we just had some drastic changes.”

Irving’s recognition was remarkable given that his decision not to get a COVID-19 shot weighed in on everything the Nets have done all season. They started the season under a cloud of uncertainty due to a New York City vaccination mandate that required all workers to be vaccinated in order to return to work. The Nets refused to allow Irving to participate as a part-time player before reversing course in December after a team-wide COVID-19 outbreak. Irving returned to the field on Jan. 5, but was only able to play in road games before New York City Mayor Eric Adams revoked the mandate from athletes and performers in late March.

Irving’s in-and-out status aside, the Nets suffered an ankle injury to guard Joe Harris that forced him to miss all but 14 games this season. An MCL injury to star striker Kevin Durant forced him to miss six weeks. A February deadline trade that sent James Harden to the Philadelphia 76ers in exchange for Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond and two first-round picks. It’s a decision Harden later acknowledged was made in part because of Irving’s part-time status — and a deal that brought Simmons, who requested a trade out of Philadelphia last summer, to a Nets team he would never play for after suffering a hernia. record derailed the last two months of his season.

“I think that’s a big reason we were in this position, a lack of continuity,” coach Steve Nash said of on-field distractions. “Kevin has to carry such a heavy burden to keep us in the playoff picture. All of those things off the floor also play a part in what happens on the floor. They’re tied, and there’s no doubt that it has an impact. Over the course of the season, there have been too, too many things that have held us back for moments and pockets.”

The Nets suffered an 11-game losing streak without Durant, and a streak through February in which they lost 17 of 20 games. Just when it appeared they were ready to turn a corner, another event would change the course of their season. The Nets, chosen by many before the season to win the NBA championship, finished with a 44-38 record good for seventh place in the Eastern Conference – and a playoff spot solidified by a playoff win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on April 12. Through it all, the Nets have never been able to find the rhythm every great team needs to achieve playoff success.

“No regrets,” Durant said after being swept for the first time in his career. “S— is coming. No crying over spilled milk. It’s about how we can grow and improve from here. We see we’ve been through a lot this year. Everyone in the organization knows what we’ve been through. So no time to have regrets or be too upset. It’s about finding solutions to improve, proactively, as an organization to improve.

“Even great teams, they don’t dwell on what they are doing, they just try to keep improving. So for us, we know what our mistakes were, just try to turn them into strengths. But we can’t. I have no regrets about what we did. S — just played the way it played.”

While the Nets were frustrated with the season and how the series went against the Celtics, there was almost a sense of relief that things finally came to a close on Monday night. All the pressure the Nets faced on and off the floor proved too much for a group that never reached the high ceiling that many thought possible.

“We have lost a franchise player [in Harden] and we picked up a franchise player [in Simmons]”, Irving said. “But we didn’t get to see him on the floor. There was no pressure to [Simmons] walk on the floor with us either. Well it’s good. We have Ben, we have his back. It will be good for next year. But now we’re just moving on and looking forward to what we’re building as a franchise and really getting tougher. …

“That’s why I said it was extra motivation when you got swept away like that. I didn’t necessarily play as well as I would have liked, but now we just look to the future as team and what we can achieve for the next few years and that excites me.”

Much of that future now centers on Simmons, who was not at Barclays Center on Monday night as he continues to deal with past issues, according to the Nets. For his part, Irving said, “I don’t really plan on going anywhere,” when asked to work on a possible long-term extension this summer. He has a player option this summer worth over $36.5 million.

“There’s no question where I’m going and how it’s going to be,” Irving said. “I am here with [Durant], but also I am here to build a great team. I averaged so many points, I did so many things. Individually, I’ve been recognized for my greatness, but at this point in my career, I really want to be part of a great team. And just dominate that way and don’t really focus on individual accolades and accomplishments. To really build something special – that’s my goal this summer is to build with my teammates.”

Durant also made it clear that he would like to see Nash return as Nets coach next season.

“Steve’s had a crazy hand the last two years,” Durant said. “He’s had to deal with so many things as a head coach, first time coach, trades, injuries, COVID, it’s just a lot of things he’s had to deal with. I’m proud of the way he focused and his passion for us. We all continue to develop over the summer and we’ll see what happens.”

As the Nets embark on what could be an interesting summer, Irving and Durant have made it clear that they believe better days are ahead for the organization.

“When I say I’m here with Kev, I think that really implies that we run this franchise together,” Irving said. “Next to [owner] Joe [Tsai] and [general manager] Sean [Marks], just our group of family members in our locker room, in our organization. So it’s not just about me and Kev, I don’t want to do it just for that, we’re cornerstones but we have a few other guys under contract. I think we just need to take a few steps this offseason, really talk about it, and be really intentional about what we build and have fun with, make it enjoyable.

“And hopefully we can start from day one as a team and as a family and we really worry about ourselves. Sometimes I feel like the noise from the outside world, the noise outside, can seep in. I’m not the type of person to allow that to happen, as we build together as a team, I just think we need to be mentally tougher and just more honest about what we want and stick to the goal, stick to the mission.

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