Kyrie Irving Didn’t Save Steve Nash’s Job

Posted on: November 1, 2022, 12:15h. 

Last updated on: November 1, 2022, 01:06h.

The Brooklyn Nets won a game Monday night in front of a crowd that included seven Orthodox Jews sitting in the front row wearing T-shirts that said “Fight Antisemitism.” One of them told the New York Post that “a lot of people are going to cancel” their season tickets.

antisemitism fans
A group of orthodox Jews wearing Fight Antisemitism T-shirts while sitting courtside to protest Kyrie Irving’s recent comments. (Image: NY Post)

The stunt and the uproar were caused by Irving tweeting about the film “Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America,” which contains antisemitic tropes.

On the court, the Nets blew most of a 24-point lead, but defeated the Indiana Pacers, 116-109, to snap a four-game losing streak. That wasn’t enough to keep Steve Nash from getting fired Tuesday. The distraction that Irving caused by sharing a link to a controversial film has created yet another firestorm surrounding the mercurial guard, and most of the mainstream New York media columnists are calling upon the team to trade him.

But Irving and Kevin Durant are tight, and what we have here is the latest chapter in a power struggle that began when Irving and Durant publicly called for the firings of Nash and general manager Sean Marks. The decision on which trigger to pull was ultimately made by owner Joe Tsai, and a fifth straight loss going into Tuesday night’s home game against the 3-4 Chicago Bulls wouldn’t have mattered for Nash.

He was a dead man walking.

For the first time all season, the Nets didn’t let an opposing star go nuts against them. Indiana’s high scorer was Chris Duarte with 30 points, which was on the low end for points by an opponent. This season, Benedict Matthurin scored 32, Luke Doncic had 41, Giannis Antetokounmpo had 43, Ja Morant and Desmond Bane each had 39, Pascal Siakam had 37, and Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson and C.J. McCollum each had 20+ in the Nets’ first six games.

A sure sign that a team is quitting on its coach is a lack of effort defensively, and the Nets are allowing 120.3 points per game, the most in the Eastern Conference, where they sit in 12th place.

Is this Season Already a Lost Cause for Brooklyn?

After seven games? No. Ben Simmons has been dreadful, but Royce O’Neale was a nice off-season pickup, and T.J. Warren hasn’t yet played. Marks still needs to juice up the roster somehow. But since he traded away five first-round picks (including swaps) in order to acquire James Harden, then gifted him to the Sixers for Simmons, the trade cupboard is bare. That’s aside from disgruntled veteran Patty Mills and second-year forward Cam Thomas, who’s gathering dust on the bench after winning a Las Vegas Summer League MVP trophy.

It’s now up to interim coach Jacque Vaughn to decide whether or not to play Thomas and to give additional playing time to Mills, who averaged 29 minutes last season and is at 14.3 this season.

Irving’s latest social media fiasco (he deleted the controversial tweet after insisting he would not) is an extraordinary distraction, which is what every team that’s ever dealt with Irving came to expect from him. As Brian Windhorst said on ESPN Tuesday morning while the network discussed the Nets, the team probably won’t do anything to discipline Irving.

When something else happens later this year, they’re not going to do anything then, either,” Windhorst said, noting that the Nets sell fewer season tickets than any team in the NBA.

Tuesday night’s game will be telecast by TNT, and the best bet of the season is that hosts Shaq, Charles, Kenny, and Ernie will be weighing in on Kyrie and the general state of the Nets. These guys aren’t shy with their opinions.

Irving’s teammates know he comes with a complicated personality and an exceptional level of intelligence that doesn’t always manifest itself in sound judgment. Even so, Irving does have a right to his opinions, whether they’re popular or not.

Nash was in the uncomfortable position of having to answer for Irving (who ducked the media after Monday night’s game), and there may come a point when Nash stops saying the non-controversial “right thing” and unloads on a player who’s been a sideshow throughout his career. It’s not likely, but it’s not beyond the realm of possibility either, especially now that Nash is out of a job.

However the Irving situation evolves, the bookmakers still believe in this team and have them listed as the +900 fifth choice (tied with Phoenix) to win the NBA Championship, behind Golden State and Boston (+600), Milwaukee and the Clippers (+650). They’re +450 to win the East.

What to Expect Tuesday Night

The Nets are 1-point favorites Tuesday against the Bulls, and take a league-worst 1-6-0 against the spread record (Miami and the Clippers also are 1-6-0) into the game. Both Chicago and Brooklyn have gone over in four of seven games.

Irving is 10th in the league in scoring at 30.1 per game, while Durant is fourth at 32.6. The Bulls have lost two straight against San Antonio and Philadelphia, but they did have an 18-point victory against Boston.

If we look at Monday night’s Nets win as an outlier, we should note that the Nets have lost by 9, 4, 11, 10, and 22. If they pull a quit job on Vaughn on Tuesday, you may want to look at Draft Kings’ winning margin lines, which include this abnormality: the Nets are +1900 for the Bulls to win by 1 or 2, and +1900 to win by 17-20.

Simmons is +1100 to have a triple-double after sitting out Monday’s game with knee soreness, while Irving is +900 to double-double (it would be his first). Durant is +380 and O’Neale is +1700 to double-double. For the Bulls, DeMar DeRozan is +1200 to double-double (he had six last season and none so far this season).

In Coach of the Year futures markets, Nash was +4000 at BetMGM and Ceasars, and +3000 at BetRivers. At offshores, where “First NBA Coach to be Fired” betting is allowed, Nash was +150 to be the first.

“We want to thank Steve for everything he brought to our franchise over the past two-plus seasons,” Marks said in a statement Tuesday. “Since becoming head coach, Steve was faced with a number of unprecedented challenges, and we are sincerely grateful for his leadership, patience, and humility throughout his tenure. Personally, this was an immensely difficult decision; however, after much deliberation and evaluation of how the season has begun, we agreed that a change is necessary at this time.”

Both Irving and Durant lobbied for the Nets to hire Lakers assistant coach Phil Handy, who is unavailable. Vaughn coached Orlando for three seasons and was the Nets’ interim coach after Kenny Atkinson was fired in 2020. There’s already speculation that former Celtic coach Ime Udoka could be brought in.

Do the Nets Just Sit Tight with Irving?

Most franchises would do something of substance in a situation such as the one the Nets find themselves in. But the Nets scoured the trade market for Irving over the summer and couldn’t find anything to their liking. His latest controversy (coming after Irving promoted an Alex Jones New World Order conspiracy theory via social media) can’t be all that unexpected, given Irving’s history of pushing the needle.

The guy remains a tremendous offensive talent with exceptional handles, and he has scored 30+ in four of seven games. What bears watching is the level of defensive effort he gives, because as noted above, teams that quit on their coach do it on the defensive end. Tonight’s over/under of 231 is 5 1/2 points lower than Monday’s O/U. Chicago had an O/U of 221 1/2 against Philly and 230 against San Antonio, and went over in both.

The NBA league office isn’t happy about the Irving developments. But the NBA isn’t being run by David Stern anymore. If it were, we would be wagering on the over/under of the number of games Irving would be suspended for. That era is over, and this saga is most certainly to be continued.