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Nets’ Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant’s ex-teams are thriving without them

Nets’ Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant’s ex-teams are thriving without them

In July 2019, Kyrie Irving bolted Boston for Brooklyn, and Kevin Durant left Golden State to join him. And in effect, the two created one of the most dangerous duos in NBA history.

Now, the Warriors are back in yet another NBA Finals, while the Celtics are going into Friday’s Game 6 up 3-2 and playing at home with a chance to join them. Meanwhile, Irving, Durant and the Nets have been on vacation for over a month, swept out of the playoffs in the first round and nowhere close to contention. 

What looked like a sure-fire champion in the making has produced two first-round exits and a second-round ouster, just a lone playoff series win in three seasons. But sometimes things just don’t go as planned. It’s called life. 

Of course, there are obvious reasons. Durant missing his first Nets campaign with a ruptured Achilles suffered in the 2019 Finals with Golden State. Irving and James Harden’s injures in last season’s Eastern Conference semis vs. Milwaukee. And of course Irving’s refusal to get a COVID-19 vaccine cost him most of this season and led to a sweep against his former team. 

But the facts are that Boston has rebounded from losing Irving just fine, just a Friday Game 6 win away from the Finals. 

And Durant left the league’s most stable and consistent dynasty since Michael Jordan’s Bulls to come to Brooklyn. Left Steph Curry for Irving, whose vaccine refusal cost him 53 games this season and may have cost the Nets a legitimate shot at a title in a window that — while it’s not closed — is finite. 

Kyrie Irving, left, and Kevin Durant
Kyrie Irving, left, and Kevin Durant
Corey Sipkin for the NY POST

Just ask the Oklahoma City team that went to their only NBA Finals in 2012 with a young Big Three consisting of future MVPs Durant, Harden and Russell Westbrook. All were 24 or younger, but they lost in the Finals and never got back. 

Or ask the Celtics that reached the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals with Irving leading Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown but couldn’t duplicate it the next year and saw Irving leave in free agency. 

It seemed a slam dunk for Brooklyn and an airball for Boston. 

Even Celtics CEO and governor Wyc Grousbeck said Irving’s departure was one of the primary reasons for Boston’s struggles last season. 

“We had hoped Kyrie would stay forever and lead us all the way,” Grousbeck said on NBC Sports Boston on Feb 24, 2021. “He’s on maybe the best team in the league right now, and so that’s that. 

“That change touched off a lot of stuff because he left, we weren’t maybe able to recruit free agents in the same way, and a bit of a domino effect. But it is what it is. We went for it with Kyrie. We had a good year with him. He tried hard, and then he moved on.” 

Getting Irving helped the Nets recruit free agents in a new way. Unable to even get a visit with Durant when he was leaving OKC, they saw him join the Warriors and earn consecutive Finals MVPs. He likely would’ve claimed a third if he didn’t rupture his Achilles in 2019. 

Kevin Durant while with the Warriors
Kevin Durant while with the Warriors
Anthony J Causi
Kyrie Irving while with the Celtics.
Kyrie Irving while with the Celtics.
Getty Images

But that summer, Durant opted to leave Golden State, and the security of a well-oiled machine with a fellow MVP in Curry. Durant — who hates drama and just wants to focus on basketball — left for a situation with an ever-changing roster, the mercurial nature of Irving and a desperate need for locker room leadership. 

Now the Celtics have matured into a buzzsaw, and the Warriors are back in their sixth Finals in eight years — the best run since Jordan’s Chicago dynasty. Ironically, it’s come with ex-Nets coach Kenny Atkinson on the bench as an assistant, four wins from a ring and one good interview away from the Lakers’ job. 

Even if Durant and Irving’s former teams meet in the Finals, it doesn’t mean the Nets can’t finally fulfill expectations next season. But if the last three have proven anything, it’s that there are no guarantees. Things don’t always go as planned. 

It’s called the NBA.