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    Kyrie Irving Asks the Nets to Trade Him

    The Nets guard, who will be a free agent this summer, wants out of Brooklyn just months after he caused an uproar by linking to an antisemitic film on social media.Kyrie Irving has asked the Nets to trade him before the N.B.A.’s trading deadline on Thursday, according to a person familiar with the request who was not authorized to discuss it publicly.Irving is in the final year of a four-year contract and will be a free agent this summer. The Athletic was first to report his trade request.Irving’s request comes three months after the Nets suspended him for refusing to disavow antisemitism after posting a link on Twitter to a film featuring antisemitic tropes. Irving missed eight games because of the suspension and returned after apologizing.He has averaged 27.2 points per game since his return, and the Nets have gone 22-10 with him in the lineup since then. The Nets are fourth in the Eastern Conference.It appeared as though the Nets, after months of drama and endless speculation about the direction of the team, had finally found some semblance of stability. But Irving has been a magnet for controversy for much of his career, and his trade request has most likely endangered the team’s fragile chemistry.A contender willing to trade for Irving would be well aware of the risks — as well as the potential rewards. He helped lead the Cleveland Cavaliers to an N.B.A. championship in 2016 alongside LeBron James, and Irving remains one of the league’s most exceptional talents. But there is baggage, too.After a 2-5 start this season, the Nets fired Steve Nash as their coach. He was replaced by Jacque Vaughn, one of his assistants, who managed to steady the team after a distraction-filled first few weeks of the season.Irving was criticized in October after he posted a link on Twitter to an antisemitic film, which espoused several false tropes, including questioning whether the Holocaust was real. Irving distanced himself from the Holocaust questioning, but he declined to apologize for the post in multiple combative news conferences even as he took down the post. During one of those news conferences, Irving expressed support for an antigovernment conspiracy theory pushed by the Infowars fabulist Alex Jones. The Nets suspended him on Nov. 3, and he returned to play on Nov. 20, despite some backlash from fans and the news media.Since then, the backlash has receded and Irving has shown flashes, at least on the court, of why the Nets signed him nearly four years ago.Irving and Kevin Durant joined the Nets as free agents before the 2019-20 season to form one of the more dynamic tandems in the league. Durant is one of the league’s smoothest scorers, and Irving is perhaps its best ballhandler. They each had championship experience and seemed poised, talent-wise, to bring the Nets a title.But there were questions and concerns from the start. Durant tore his Achilles’ tendon in the 2019 N.B.A. finals while playing for the Golden State Warriors, and he sat out his first season in Brooklyn. Irving, meanwhile, appeared in just 20 games before having season-ending shoulder surgery.The following season, the Nets made another splash by acquiring James Harden from the Houston Rockets in a three-team trade. But Irving missed several games for unspecified personal reasons, and during one of the stints when he was away from the team, video surfaced of him attending his sister’s birthday party without a mask, in violation of the N.B.A.’s coronavirus protocols. In the Eastern Conference semifinals, Irving sprained his right ankle against the Milwaukee Bucks and the Nets lost the series in seven games.The drama, though, was just beginning. Before the start of the 2021-22 season, the Nets issued Irving an ultimatum after he declined to be vaccinated for Covid-19: Get the shot, or stay home. Irving missed 35 games before the Nets reversed their policy, which cleared Irving to play in road games. He was able to play in home games nearly three months later when Mayor Eric Adams repealed a vaccine mandate for professional athletes and performers working in New York City.But Harden was gone by then, having joined the Philadelphia 76ers in a midseason trade. The Nets went on to get swept by the Boston Celtics in the first round of the playoffs. In the wake of that disaster, Durant requested a trade but rescinded it before the start of this season.Irving had a player option for this season, and it was unclear almost until the deadline in June whether he would opt in. After weeks of speculation that he might be trying to force a trade, Irving announced that he was in for this season after all.“Normal people keep the world going, but those who dare to be different lead us into tomorrow,” Irving said in a statement at the time. “I’ve made my decision to opt in. See you in the fall.” More

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    The Brooklyn Nets Have So Much Talent but So Little Charm

    The Nets are again one of the Eastern Conference’s best teams, with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant leading All-Star voting. So why is there so little joy in watching them?I watched the Nets play in Brooklyn last week, and a Boston Celtics home game broke out.“M-V-P, M-V-P, M-V-P!” rang the chants, aimed not at one of the Nets but at Jayson Tatum, Boston’s feather-touch, do-it-all forward, as he toed the free-throw line in the fourth quarter of what became a runaway victory for his team.This was one of the most significant rivalry tests of the N.B.A. season, a battle between two teams vying for the best record in the Eastern Conference. It was also the first of a spate of games the Nets would play without Kevin Durant. The team’s best player, and the core of the offense, Durant sprained his left knee earlier in the week and stands to spend at least two weeks recovering.In other words, it was the type of game that reveals a team’s DNA.With much in the balance, the Nets mounted only a tepid response, fading late and losing, 109-98. That may be why the fans at Barclays Center seemed muted, why they allowed a rival like Boston to roll into town and treat the arena like a personal penthouse. The team rolled over for the Oklahoma City Thunder at home Sunday night, dropping back to four games behind the Celtics in the East.High hopes have stuck to this Nets team since the summer of 2019, when Kyrie Irving signed on to be the franchise’s floor general and promised to persuade Durant, the 2014 league M.V.P., to join him. Both stars had won N.B.A. championships in the not-so-distant past. It stood to reason that Brooklyn would become a perennial contender.The Nets are again an elite team this season. When they are clicking, as they were in December, they are capable of winning a dozen straight games on the strength of hot shooting and stern defense.So why isn’t it more joyful and exciting to watch them?Brooklyn is the N.B.A.’s most enigmatic team — awkward to root for, understand, figure out and believe in. Over the past several seasons and into the current one, the high hopes for what the Nets could become have consistently been dashed by soap opera controversies.“If you love the Nets, you have to focus on the skill of the players,” one fan told me during the game. “It’s all about the skills of this team. That’s why you watch. Because their big stars all have, how do I say this, well, they have some baggage.”For the uninitiated, here’s a quick rundown of the plot twists.Steve Nash was hired as head coach in 2020 despite having no coaching experience. His first year went well enough: The Nets were a Durant 3-pointer away from making the Eastern Conference finals.The promise of this team never quite outpaces the spectacle. The 2018 league M.V.P., James Harden, arrived in 2021 thinking he would complement Durant and Irving perfectly. Break out the Champagne, N.B.A. titles here we come.But Harden beefed with Irving, partly because Irving — who seems to have never met a conspiracy theory he didn’t want to bear hug — refused to get vaccinated for the coronavirus as the pandemic raged. That meant Irving couldn’t play home games during a period when New York demanded immunization as a prerequisite for work.Kyrie Irving led all Eastern Conference guards in All-Star voting, despite being at the center of several controversies.Hiroko Masuike/The New York TimesSo the Nets shipped Harden to Philadelphia midway through last season. “There was no structure” in Brooklyn, Harden said, offering a parting shot. “And even superstars, they need structure.”He continued pulling back the curtain. “Internally, things weren’t what I expected when I was trying to get traded there,” he said.In trading for Harden, the Nets received Ben Simmons, a player talented enough to have once been viewed as Magic Johnson Lite.Problem is, Simmons arrived in Brooklyn so saddled by injury and self-doubt that he had become allergic to one of basketball’s most essential and elementary skills: shooting the basketball.Nash’s team stumbled through last season, dogged by injuries, a teamwide Covid outbreak and, yes, more drama, only to be swept ignobly by the Celtics in the first round of the playoffs. Durant peppered the team with a demand: Fire Nash, or trade me. (He later relented.)When the Nets began this season losing five of their first seven games, Nash was let go.I haven’t even detailed Irving’s self-inflicted wounds. They’re enough to fill a book. To keep from dragging on, I’ll say that this season could have been a redemption tour until he started it by publicly backing a holocaust-denying documentary that blamed Jews for many of the world’s woes.No, the Nets don’t leave you with the warm and fuzzies — not in the way, for example, that Golden State, fronted by Stephen Curry, or the Denver Nuggets, led by Nikola Jokic, do. But the Nets’ stars remain popular, at least by one nonscientific measure. Durant and Irving are among the league’s vote leaders for this year’s All-Star Game.“It’s all about the skills” seems to have become a necessary mantra for the many fans willing to look past all of this team’s travails.What will the Nets’ future be? How can anyone be sure when, despite all that skill, the team remains such a work in progress?Simmons is 26, still capable of becoming the superstar he was billed as when he was drafted No. 1 overall in 2016. He put up quite a stat line against Boston: 13 assists and nine rebounds, the type of play vital to Brooklyn with Durant out.But there were times when Simmons was near the basket and attempted awkward layups. Clang. He tried again. Clank.All game, Simmons did not score a single point. As he sat on the bench in the fourth quarter, the Nets already having given in, Celtics fans filled Barclays Center with their loudest roars.In the news conference after the game, I asked him: What is this team’s identity?I wanted to know if the Nets had a trademark trait they could rely on, something not only excellent but sustainable in the crunch. All championship teams contain such a quality; if you ask me, all deeply embraceable teams do, too.Simmons leaned back, shook his head as if bewildered and paused for a beat.“We are still trying to give ourselves an identity,” he said. “So maybe at the end of the year, I will give you that answer.”Basketball fans have been waiting long enough. More

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    Nets Cut the Drama and Rekindle Championship Hopes

    Kevin Durant’s trade request, a coaching change and Kyrie Irving’s suspension made the Nets look destined for another season of disappointment. Now, they’re the hottest team in the Eastern Conference.The Nets were a complicated franchise when Jacque Vaughn met with his players at a morning shootaround in Washington on Nov. 4.Before their game against the Wizards that night, the Nets had filled the early weeks of their season with substandard basketball. But it was their off-court issues that were worthy of a telenovela. The Nets had indefinitely suspended Kyrie Irving for refusing to disavow antisemitism. They had fired Steve Nash as their coach. And Ben Simmons was scuffling through his delayed debut with the Nets.Vaughn, a longtime assistant, was in a tenuous spot as the team’s interim coach at a particularly fraught moment for an organization that had already experienced its share of fraught moments in recent seasons. But Vaughn was hoping to act as an agent of change.“Our shootaround was the precipice of that,” he recalled, “me getting up in front of the group and being as vulnerable as I can be in explaining the situation and telling them that ‘I’m going to be as consistent as I can be with you every day, and as honest as I can be — and I’m always going to do what’s best for the group.’”As a self-described “simple person,” Vaughn wanted his team to rid itself of unnecessary clutter. So he stripped down the playbook. He began to stress just three defensive concepts — “I won’t say what those are,” he said — so that his players could focus on them rather than make huge adjustments from game to game. And he emphasized the purity of their pursuit: Why make life in the N.B.A. more difficult than it needed to be?“We kind of pledged to each other that it was going to be about basketball,” Vaughn said, “and hopefully not let any outside noise interfere with that. And our guys have done an unbelievable job protecting each other.”Nets guard Kyrie Irving was suspended for eight games in November after he would not disavow antisemitism. He apologized and has averaged 25.6 points per game since he returned.Kirk Irwin/Getty ImagesThe Nets won that game against the Wizards, which was the start of a trend — a trend that has them climbing the Eastern Conference standings and back in the conversation as, yes, a championship contender.The Nets, who extended their winning streak to nine games on Monday night with a 125-117 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers, have won 20 of their last 26 games under Vaughn, who was named the head coach on Nov. 9. The Nets’ resurgence has been notably drama-free, no small feat given their early challenges.Kevin Durant is assembling one of his finest seasons, averaging 30 points, 6.6 rebounds and 5.3 assists a game while shooting a career-best 56.3 percent from the field. Simmons, after missing all of last season, has rebooted and found his footing as a pass-first facilitator and disruptive defender. And Irving, whose suspension lasted eight games, had 32 points and 5 assists in the Nets’ win over the Cavaliers.“I think we’re finding our identity off the court in terms of how we treat each other, and that’s looking good on the floor,” Irving said after the game. “It’s looking great on the floor, honestly. We just want to keep it up.”There is no denying the Nets’ talent, but everyone has already heard this story. They were talented last season, too, until their grand experiment blew up in spectacular fashion. Remember last season? Irving refused to be vaccinated against the coronavirus. James Harden asked to be traded. And the Nets crashed out of the playoffs when the Boston Celtics swept them in the first round. During the off-season, Durant asked to be traded, and Irving seemed to be on his way out, too.Both stars stuck around, but the Nets seemed bound for more dysfunction anyway in the wake of the early coaching change and Irving’s high-profile suspension. For his part, Durant blamed the news media, rather than Irving’s behavior, for creating a lot of the “outside noise” that had the team flailing. But Vaughn has operated as a calming influence.“Coach shored up our roles, pretty much letting us know each day what he needs from us,” Durant said. “I think that’s been our focus. It’s not like, ‘Man, finally we got the noise out of our locker room, and now we can play.’ I think we always been locked in on basketball to try to get this thing back on track.”The question now, of course, is whether the Nets can sustain their strong play. The answer will hinge in large part on Irving, a gifted player who is not known for being the most reliable teammate.“Any external negativity or praise, I really don’t care about it,” Irving said. “I think I’m just focused on being the best version of me and letting the results play out based on how well we trust one another as a group.”After Monday’s win, Irving reflected on the six seasons he spent with the Cavaliers at the start of his career. He recalled the pressure he put on himself when they made him the No. 1 overall pick of the 2011 draft and how he felt like a “lone superhero” for several lean seasons before LeBron James returned to the Cavaliers after four seasons away in Miami. Together, they delivered an N.B.A. championship to Cleveland in 2016.“I think the greatest lesson I learned throughout that process is that it’s not a lonely road that you’re supposed to take on your own,” Irving said. “It takes a lot of help.”In Brooklyn, Irving has help. He has help from Durant, who has outsize goals of his own. He has help from teammates like Simmons and Nic Claxton, a promising young center. And he has help from a coach who has urged the Nets to get back to basics.“And we’re not going to change that anytime soon,” Vaughn said. More

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    Nike and Kyrie Irving Officially End Relationship

    The sportswear giant suspended its partnership with the N.B.A. star last month, after he posted a link to an antisemitic film on social media.Nike and the N.B.A. star Kyrie Irving ended their business partnership on Monday, finalizing a break that began when the sportswear giant suspended the relationship last month after Mr. Irving posted a link to an antisemitic film on social media.“Kyrie Irving is no longer a Nike athlete,” Nike said in a statement.Mr. Irving’s contract with Nike, which has produced the basketball star’s shoe line since 2014, was set to expire in October 2023. At the time of the suspension, Nike said it would not release Mr. Irving’s latest shoe, the Kyrie 8.“We mutually decided to part ways and we just wish Nike all the best,” Shetellia Riley Irving, Mr. Irving’s agent, said. She declined to comment further.Mr. Irving, 30, was also suspended by the Brooklyn Nets last month, though he returned to the team on Nov. 20.A few days after his initial post with the link to the film, Mr. Irving posted an apology on Instagram. “To All Jewish families and Communities that are hurt and affected from my post, I am deeply sorry to have caused you pain, and I apologize,” he wrote.Mr. Irving’s suspension last month came shortly after Kanye West made a series of antisemitic comments, causing numerous companies to cut ties with him. Notably, Adidas ended its relationship with Mr. West, who goes by Ye. Adidas, which had an entire division devoted to manufacturing and selling Yeezy merchandise, said it would likely face a loss of 250 million euros, or roughly $246 million, this year from ending that partnership.Mr. Irving’s shoes have been popular with fellow players and fans. Still, analysts have pointed out that Nike earns far more from ties to other notable stars, especially the basketball great Michael Jordan. Last year, the Jordan brand, which includes sneakers and other athletic wear, accounted for $5 billion of Nike’s $44.5 billion in total revenue. More