That sentiment only got stronger midway through last season when the team traded for James Harden, the 2018 league MVP.
But the Nets have fallen woefully short of expectations.
Last spring, they lost in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals to the eventual world champion Milwaukee Bucks by the slimmest of margins.
Irving was out with an injury, and Harden was hampered by a hamstring ailment.
This season, Brooklyn got swept in the first round of the playoffs by the Boston Celtics, as Durant played poorly.
It often takes a lot to cause a team like the Nets to do so poorly relative to fans’ expectations, and there were three main culprits this year.
1. Irving Refused To Get Vaccinated
As the COVID-19 pandemic continued to spread rampantly across the nation, a few municipalities instituted vaccine mandates in an attempt to keep the public safe in congregate indoor settings.
One of those municipalities was the five boroughs that make up New York City.
Irving stubbornly refused to take a COVID-19 vaccine, and thus, he was not allowed to participate in any games or practices within the city, and the Nets had no interest in him being a part-time player on the road for much of the season.
As a result, Irving did nothing for much of the season.
It wasn’t until new New York City mayor Eric Adams lifted the mandate that Irving was able to play in the last 29 games of the regular season, but by then, the damage had been done.
Regardless of what one thinks about vaccine mandates, the fact is that his unavailability prevented the Nets from winning lots of games, not to mention building chemistry.
Tale of two vaccine mandate responses. @22wiggins got the shot and a title. @KyrieIrving got an early playoff exit. Would the Nets have been title contenders if Irving had gotten vaccinated?🤔 pic.twitter.com/O9VjF2odtM
— Monique James (@Monique32_) June 20, 2022
2. Injuries To Durant
Another factor that prevented Brooklyn from building chemistry was the fact that Durant was out of 27 contests, mostly due to a sprained MCL.
Whenever key players, especially stars and superstars such as Irving and Durant are out of the lineup, a team is going to struggle.
When Durant was injured, the Nets went on an 11-game losing streak, and as a result, they dropped from first place to eighth place in a matter of a couple of weeks.
Brooklyn only finished seventh in the Eastern Conference, meaning it had to go through the play-in tournament just to make the playoffs.
When a team isn’t whole throughout the season and finishes with a low seed, not only will the road to the championship be exponentially harder, but it won’t have the immense confidence that comes with winning lots of games and finishing with one of the best records around.
No matter what the naysayers claim, defense is still the key to winning championships, and the Nets have simply lacked this quality.
This season, they ranked just 19th in defensive rating, and last season, they were even worse at 23rd.
That trash defense isn’t winning anything.
— Chad Johnson (@ChadJoh78911925) June 17, 2022
When head coach Steve Nash was a player, he was fantastic offensively, but he was lacking at the other end, and the same seems to be true about him as an NBA coach.
The Nets may have some of the tools needed to be decent defensively, as Durant is a good defender and center Nic Claxton can protect the rim.
But today’s NBA is all about team defense, and Brooklyn still hasn’t figured out how to put it all together in that department.