PHILADELPHIA — The Nets have steadfastly insisted they aren’t conceding this season like some gap year waiting for Kevin Durant. But Kyrie Irving addressed the elephant in the room, admitting to get where they want to go – hoisting an NBA championship trophy — they will need Durant healthy.
Then Irving acknowledged they may need even more than that.
“It’s transparent. It’s out there. It’s glaring in terms of the pieces that we need in order to be at that next level,” Irving said after scoring just 14 points in the Nets’ 117-106 loss to the 76ers on Wednesday night. “I’m going to continue to reiterate it: We’re going to do the best with the guys that we have in our locker room now, and we’ll worry about all the other stuff — in terms of moving pieces and everything else — as an organization down the line in the summer.
“It’s just something that we signed up for. We knew what we were coming into at the beginning of this season. Guys were going down left and right, [Garrett Temple] is out, [DeAndre Jordan] just got hurt, Wilson [Chandler] just came back. We’ve got complimentary young guys as well that’ve done a great job the last three years; collectively, I feel like we have great pieces. But it’s pretty glaring we need one more piece or two more pieces that will compliment myself, KD, DJ, GT, Spencer (Dinwiddie), Caris (LeVert), and we’ll see how that evolves.”
That could be a tough ask, with the Nets having just invested well over $300 million this summer to bring in Irving, Durant and Jordan. The latter dislocated his middle finger in Wednesday’s loss at Philadelphia.
Granted, the Nets have been decimated. Irving missed 26 straight games with a shoulder impingement, and the Nets are 13-13 without him, but just 5-9 with him. Caris LeVert also missed 24 in a row with a thumb injury. Chandler sat out the first 25 with a PED suspension.
General manager Sean Marks and owner Joe Tsai have spoken about the team’s willingness to pay luxury tax; and with Joe Harris a pending free agent due for a big raise, that’s a good thing.
Though Irving seems to think the Nets need not only Durant but possibly another piece to hoist a trophy, his boss’ boss doesn’t agree, Tsai saying there’s enough talent on this roster to win a title.
“Absolutely. I think the fans expect that we win a championship,” Tsai said on YES. “And the good thing is I believe that we do have the pieces in place.
“Now, we have some injuries and people are coming back. But the fundamental pieces are in place to perhaps go all the way, so I’m absolutely comfortable that if we pay the luxury tax that’s fine.”
Tsai clearly can afford to pay luxury tax. But the question is where any pieces would come from by the Feb. 6 trade deadline unless they try to move LeVert or Jarrett Allen in pursuit of an established star, something they have shown no inclination to do. They have the Clippers’ first-round pick, but dealt away their own.
Either way, Irving conceded that for the time being, they can’t use Durant’s absence as an alibi. They’re going to have to work with what they have got.
“It’s glaring that you’re missing a big piece here,” said Irving, who shot 1-for-7 in the fourth quarter. “We all know that. But we can’t continue to make that excuse. We’ve got to go out there and compete and continue to lock in and see where we end up.”
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