The game ended and the crowd at Barclays Center chanted “MVP”. Fans were dressed in NBA jerseys in all team colors, and their star raised his hands to thank them for the praise.
But Kyrie Irving was already on her way to the locker room. Just like Kevin Durant. Ben Simmons wasn’t even in the building. It wasn’t a holiday for the Nets, who play their home games here. It was for the Boston Celtics, for their star Jason Tatum, and for a team that had just accomplished the unthinkable feat of beating the Nets in four games in the first round of the playoffs. The Nets superteam that the Celtics faced, built around Irving and Durant to win the championship in June, didn’t even make it to May.
It was a dismal conclusion to a season that had begun with high expectations in October. The Nets had three of the best players on the planet, the set of characters was the NBA version of Ocean’s Eleven. Team leaders throughout the league feared them. In fact, in NBA.com preseason poll72 percent of league general managers predicted the Nets would win the title. The Los Angeles Lakers finished second with 17 percent of the vote, proving that no one really knew: The Lakers didn’t make the playoffs at all.
But as the season began, the big question arose: what could stop these two teams from meeting in the NBA Finals? Who better than LeBron James can stop Durant from bringing the Nets their first NBA title? And who but Durant could stop James’s march to a fifth championship?
It turned out that there will be many obstacles in their way.
The Nets and Lakers have both failed — impressively — in building successful superteams, though those failures had different roots. For the Nets, it was a mixture of absurdity: a star who had not been vaccinated against the coronavirus; another star who wanted to leave after making it to the Nets; a substitute star who didn’t even show up for the elimination game.
For the Lakers, it was pure Hollywood: an aging former All-Star who wanted the ball for himself when his coach wanted him to share it; a team of formers hoping for a last hurray; the A-list star tries to keep the team alive but can’t do it the way he’s done so many times before. Young opponents openly laughed at them and enjoyed the haste of their demise.
The Nets also had their critics.
“I know so many people wanted us to fail at this stage, chose us as contenders, and they have so much to say at this point,” Irving said after losing at the end of the season on Monday, “so that I just use it as fuel. for summer.”
Brooklyn had problems from the very beginning. Irving refused to be vaccinated against the coronavirus. And because of New York City regulations that required most people to be at least partially vaccinated to visit venues like sports arenas, the Nets gave Irving an ultimatum: get vaccinated or stay home. Irving decided to stay at home. The season started without him.
By mid-December, the Nets relented, allowing Irving to join them as a part-time employee for most road games. They needed it because of the coronavirus itself, they say: Seven of their players were barred from a game against the Orlando Magic because they entered the NBA’s Covid-19 health and safety protocols, leaving the team short-handed. The Nets also lost Joe Harris, one of their top shooters, to an ankle injury.
Just weeks into the season, the Nets superteam began to fall apart. Young teams did not bother them. It hardly helped that James Harden had one of his worst seasons in the NBA. But he still hit Irving. At one point, Harden told reporters that he would inoculate Irving himself, showing a glimmer of his frustration. As Harden grew more disgruntled, the Nets cut him off, sending him to the Philadelphia 76ers in February in exchange for a package that included Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond, and a draft pick.
It was a quick end to the Nets’ superteam experiment that showed just how difficult it is to put together a roster of store-bought stars: you can’t just put them together and expect it to work, no matter how amazing their individual talent is.
However, in the wreckage of the off-season, the Nets had a new superteam that was to include Simmons, a three-time All-Star named No. 1 overall in 2016. – described mental health problems. He could not train, much less go to the court for games.
The hits kept coming. Durant missed 21 games with a sprained knee. The Nets went on a losing streak that sent them down the Eastern Conference standings. The team attempted to bolster their backcourt by signing Goran Dragić, but he then tested positive for the virus. Eventually New York repealed the vaccination ordinances, which meant that Irving could play in home games. But the Nets have little time left to build playoff chemistry.
Even then, they had to fight for a spot in the postseason.
“I wish we had more continuity as a group but this is just a league – every team goes through that,” Durant said this week, adding: “There are a lot of things that happen during the season that you need to go through well.” for you to be a good team and a lot of things went wrong.”
For the Nets, having to go through the play-in tournament to make the playoffs was a bit of a disaster. What happened to the Lakers was even worse.
The entire team was vaccinated before the start of the season to avoid the crashes the Nets experienced, but there were other hurdles. Injuries to James and Anthony Davis, an eight-time All-Star, hampered succession. The December coronavirus outbreak meant that the available lineup was constantly changing. Worst of all, the combinations on the court didn’t work.
It had a lot to do with Russell Westbrook, who was traded by the Lakers last summer with the expectation that he would be the third superstar alongside James and Davis.
Westbrook, 33, was the most accessible of the Lakers’ three stars, but he was also the least efficient.
By the middle of the season, it was clear that Westbrook wasn’t going to offer the level of superstar play that helped him win the 2017 League Most Valuable Player award with Oklahoma City. (There will be no MVP chant this year.) Opponents began to ridicule his punch selection and balloons. He was uncomfortable because of the resentment that did not pass through him. The Lakers hoped that Westbrook would help stabilize the team when James wasn’t on the court, but that didn’t work.
Westbrook later blamed coach Frank Vogel for personal problems with him, stating that he had never had a problem with any coach or teammate before.
“Guys, you don’t know this, but it was Frank and his wife’s anniversary, and I actually sent him a bottle of champagne in his hotel room, which you don’t know anything about, because it’s a good deed, a good gesture. ” Westbrook said during a post-season press conference for the Lakers. He added, “I’m not sure what his problem is with me.”
Vogel was fired at the end of the season, and Westbrook, James and Davis only played 21 games together. Their union was not productive on the court, and the Lakers had limited room to improve the rest of the roster.
On January 9, the Lakers faced the Memphis Grizzlies on an eight-game winning streak led by 22-year-old star Ja Morant. Morant’s highlights that night included a dunk and a two-handed block. James began barking at Morant’s teammate, 23-year-old Desmond Bain, who later told reporters that he had told James that no one was afraid of his steps anymore. Their teammate Zier Williams played on the same high school team as James’ son, LeBron James Jr., known as Bronnie.
As losses increased and the situation remained unchanged, tensions mounted.
When James praised other team leaders in February, some wondered if those compliments were meant to create a contrast to Rob Pelinka, the Lakers’ vice president and general manager. James also said Athletic he didn’t close the door on someday returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The following week, Rich Paul, James’ agent and business partner, met with Pelinka and Jeanie Bass, the team owner, to reassure them that James wanted to stay with the Lakers for the long term.
The franchise has long valued star players and often wins championships. Magic Johnson became a lifelong friend of Bass after her father bought the team in 1979. Kobe Bryant spent his entire career with the Lakers, winning five championships – three with Shaquille O’Neal and two with Pau Gasol. The team prioritized saying goodbye to him in his final season over developing the team’s young players.
On other occasions, their proximity to the stars cost them.
In the 2012-13 season, the Lakers added Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, hoping they could challenge Bryant for another championship. Injuries and a mismatch of personalities led to the fact that the team broke up. It ended in a first-round playoff loss and Bryant tore his Achilles tendon just over a week before the playoffs, hastening the end of his career.
The Lakers missed the playoffs for the next six years. They only recovered when James and Davis joined forces to win the 2020 championship.
A first-round exit in 2021 led to a trade with Washington for Westbrook. The Lakers thought the move would help them win the franchise’s 18th championship. This is not true.
The Nets had their own title ambitions this season and still hoped to unite in the playoffs. But the Celtics were waiting for them in the first round with an arsenal of homegrown stars. They drafted almost everyone, including Tatum and Jaylen Brown, their top picks, and Marcus Smart, the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year. Of course, in the past, the Celtics have not objected to the acquisition of big-name players: in 2017, they were traded for Irving. But after two frustrating and dramatic seasons in Boston, he ran away to Brooklyn.
And so on Monday, Irving vowed that Brooklyn would be where he wanted to be: “I’m here with Kev,” he said, and they would “run this franchise together” with the team’s front office.
Initially, they came together to win championships, and so far they have not succeeded. But dreams of superteams remain undefeated—remember, the Lakers and Nets have tried before—even if the superteams themselves sometimes fail.
Irving added, “I’ve been recognized for my greatness, but for now, I just want to be part of a great team.”