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Can the boasting talent of Kevin Durant and James Harden lead the Nets to a championship without Kyrie Irving?

The Brooklyn Nets will enter the 2022 campaign to win the NBA championship as a top favorite. We should hold such expectations for a team that boasts the talent involved here. With Kevin Durant and James Harden leading the way, Brooklyn shouldn’t have much trouble during the regular season. Despite that, this Nets roster will have a missing piece in all-star guard Kyrie Irving for most of the year.

Due to the restrictions set by the local government in New York, Irving won’t be available to play for his team. How long this situation will last depends on Irving himself. He has declined to take the COVID-19 vaccine. As such, and with Brooklyn disallowing him to play part-time, Irving will not play until fully eligible.

With all that in mind, people have pondered on how much this will affect the Nets season. This article outlines Kyrie’s value to the team and determines how his absence will translate during the year.

The Brooklyn Nets roster

Oct 8, 2021; Brooklyn, New York, USA; Brooklyn Nets guard James Harden (13) and forward Kevin Durant (7) during warm ups before a preseason game against the Milwaukee Bucks at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Part of the reason that Brooklyn ranks among the NBA’s elite has everything to do with their best players. This year, they’ll have two former league MVPs leading the way in Kevin Durant and James Harden. These two compare to some of the greatest scorers in league history. Beyond them, the remaining members of the team raise more than a few questions.

Given the weight of the contracts between Durant, Harden, and Kyrie Irving, the Nets didn’t have a lot of room to maneuver in the offseason. Fortunately, they were able to bring in some role players to assist their stars. Brooklyn signed Patty Mills and Paul Millsap to fortify the second unit. They also brought back Bruce Brown and Blake Griffin, two key contributors from last season. Another member from last year, LaMarcus Aldridge, who retired in April with heart issues, also returns in hopes of capturing his first championship.

Alongside their recent signings come current players still under contract and newly drafted prospects. The most prominent rookie on Brooklyn’s roster, Cam Thomas, has shown promise during the preseason. His scoring prowess should earn him some minutes at the wing spot. Returning role players under contract include fellow sharpshooter Joe Harris and emergent big man Nicolas Claxton.

The names noted here possess the talent to complement a star-studded trio of NBA greats. But how much can they compensate for a missing piece?

What we know about Kyrie Irving

DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 14: Kyrie Irving #11 of the Brooklyn Nets looks on during the game against the Denver Nuggets on November 14, 2019 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images)
Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images

Kyrie Irving has proven his stardom everywhere he has gone. Though he can at times turn people the wrong way, his talent persists. He is one of the best finishers in the league and can score with the best of them. Irving will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest ball-handlers in league history. On top of that, he remains one of the most clutch shooters in the game today. His style of play works in a way that would allow him to infuse any team with a significant offensive boost.

While that all bodes well for him, when you already have Kevin Durant and James Harden, scoring isn’t a primary concern for you. Kyrie Irving is the difference between an elite offensive unit and an unstoppable one on this specific roster. Without him, Brooklyn’s source for complimentary scoring has to present itself in a group of players yet to prove that they can fill that void. Should they fail to do so, it’ll make the other problems glare on a larger scale.

What has to change?

Oct 19, 2021; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA; Brooklyn Nets coach Steve Nash talks with Brooklyn Nets guard Patty Mills (8) during a stoppage in play against the Milwaukee Bucks at Fiserv Forum. Mandatory Credit: Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports
Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports

One leading issue to an NBA ‘superteam’ concerns an evident lack of depth. These teams are top-heavy but often yield favorable results. The ‘Big 3’ that Brooklyn had made it okay for them not to have many consistent scoring threats. With Kyrie out, they’ll need players to step up, and at this point, it is unclear whether they have the talent capable of doing that just yet.

Another issue regarding the team also had to do with their defense. Brooklyn ranked among the worst defensive teams in the NBA last season. But again, because they possessed the talent to outscore their opponents consistently, that problem didn’t persist. With a part of their star trio out, that also changes. Steve Nash’s inexperience as a head coach in the league may rear its head more often as well.

Having as many stars as the Nets had last year covered up the glaring holes that already existed. With that compensating factor now diminished, the problems become more apparent. To fix that, the role players could step up, or the Nets could look into trading Kyrie Irving.

Moving Irving’s contract for depth pieces to fill out the roster and resolve their defensive woes would go a long way in aiding their championship bid. Unfortunately, that may not be an actual option for Brooklyn. According to past reports, Irving has virtually no value on the trade market currently. That said, the Nets have their work cut out for them.

It shouldn’t be too difficult to compete with the NBA’s best with Kevin Durant and James Harden leading the charge. But with the trials the team faces moving forward, they’ll need significant change throughout the season if they want to win it all.

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