NBA Dime Drop: Brooklyn Net's Kyrie Irving returns to the court, bringing yet more controversy with him

There is no questioning Kyrie Irving’s skill-set when it comes to value him as a basketball player. He’s in the elite of the elite; a magician with the ball in his hands, capable of finishing from every seemingly impossible angle, comfortable shooting from anywhere on the court and the possessor of that rare clutch “gene” enabling to perform in the biggest of moments.

And yet, despite that incredible array of offensive weaponry at his disposal, he constantly raises questions about what he brings to a team. Is he capable of leading a team to success? Is he capable of leading a team, full stop? 

In his debut season with the Nets, it’s becoming clear that his individual brilliance is not enough to overcome his often bristling locker-room presence and push his team forward. Following Wednesday night’s 117-106 loss on the road to the Philadelphia 76ers, in just his third game back from a 26 game absence (due to a shoulder injury), Irving let rip on the Nets front office and some of his team-mates about their quality and place on the team.

I understand that sometimes stars use their position and opportunities with the media to motivate team-mates, but the above statement seems unnecessary and unjust. Especially following a loss to a team who are 19-2 at home (admittedly missing their franchise player and currently sputtering), when you’ve shot a miserable 6 of 21 to finish with a stat line 14, 4 and 6.

Of course, this is one game in isolation, so let’s extrapolate further. In his 26 game absence, his team went a reasonable 13 and 13 (name another team that could play without its two marquee talents and have a .500 record- there are few if any). With Kyrie, they’re an underwhelming 6-9. That’s a .400 win rate, the equivalent of the 19th best record in the league.  

Of course, the team has struggled without Kevin Durant being available and amongst a host of other players suffering from injuries or serving suspensions. But the timing of this makes no sense and underscores the doubts held about Irving’s ability to lead a team throughout his career.

Let’s recap, at a high level, his ability to lead a team:

Years 1-3: Kyrie is the lone star in Cleveland, this is his team. Of course, initial expectations are not high, after all, very rarely does a draft pick with high expectations end up on a decent team. But Irving pulls the Cavs from 19 wins prior to his arrival, to 21, 23 and 33 wins each season, though never really threatening to make the playoffs.

Years 4-6: The return of LeBron James to Cleveland pushes Irving into the de facto secondary star role. This irks him but also sees his best individual moments and three straight Finals appearances. Still, a second fiddle was not for Kyrie who demands a trade in order to venture out with his own team. 

Years 7-8: Boston, so much promise and in year one it looked like the perfect fit until his season ended in March with a knee injury which required surgery. Boston’s season appeared lost. Until the Celtics remaining ensemble cast showed that they could win without Irving, making it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals. Somehow this didn’t translate into greater success the following season, as Irving called out team-mates and sulked his way through a disappointing 4-1 loss to Milwaukee in the second round. Kyrie exited in free agency and Boston fans rejoiced. Another odd scenario whereby a fan-base are pleased their star leaves for nothing in return.

In summary, in no season has Irving been able to successfully lead a team.

Is not the greatest measure of any superstar, besides tangible rings, their ability to make a team-mate better? Is Kyrie just another All-style-no-substance-Star?

I wonder how he’ll react when Durant’s return pushes him back into the expected secondary star role again.

Weekend Watchables

Friday 17 January, 2:30 am (Saturday) – Portland Trail Blazers @ Dallas Mavericks

Portland (18-24) are scrapping to keep postseason dreams alive and managed to beat the Rockets in their last games. Dallas (26-15) continue to turn heads behind the (very-very-very) likely All-Star starter Luka Doncic. The Trail Blazers’ Damian Lillard might have circled this game as a chance to show that, irrespective of votes, his name should be up there as an All-Star starter again.

Saturday 18 January, 8:30 pm – Milwaukee Bucks @ Brooklyn Nets

Kyrie’s teammates will have a chance to clap back on Saturday night. The Bucks (37-6) are the owners of the best record in the league and are dominating at the moment. The Nets (18-22) will have their work cut out trying to slow Giannis Antetokounmpo down. Jarrett Allen has a chance to showcase his rim-protection as help defence against Antetokounmpo drives… but this leaves a big hole for former Net’s star Brook Lopez to have a big game.

Sunday 19 January, 8:00 – Miami @ San Antonio Spurs

Great tip time for UK fans. The Heat (28-12) has jumped to second in the Eastern Conference and, off the back of Kendrick Nunn’s 33 points, beat the Spurs (17-22) on Wednesday. San Antonio has shown signs of life recently, refusing to give up on ending their historic run of playoff appearances just yet, and the AT&T Center is tough to place for road teams to win.

You can hear more from Mike weekly on the Double Clutch Podcast, the UK’s leading NBA podcast.

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