The recreation was over, and the crowd at Barclays Center was chanting “M-V-P.” The followers wore N.B.A. jerseys in all of the workforce’s colours, and their star raised his arms to acknowledge their reward.
But Kyrie Irving was already headed to the locker room. So, too, was Kevin Durant. Ben Simmons wasn’t even in the constructing. This was not a celebration for the Nets, who play their residence video games right here. It was for the Boston Celtics, for his or her star Jayson Tatum and for the workforce that had simply achieved a once-unthinkable feat: a four-game sweep of the Nets in the first spherical of the playoffs. The Nets superteam the Celtics confronted, constructed round Irving and Durant to win a championship in June, didn’t even make it to May.
It was a dismal scene to finish a season that began with outsize expectations in October. The Nets had three of the greatest gamers on the planet, a forged of characters that was the N.B.A.’s model of “Ocean’s Eleven.” Team executives round the league feared them. In truth, in a preseason ballot by NBA.com, 72 p.c of the league’s normal managers predicted that the Nets would win the title. The Los Angeles Lakers completed second, with 17 p.c of the vote, proving that no person knew a lot of something: The Lakers didn’t make the playoffs in any respect.
Yet when the season began, there was an enormous query: What may stop these two groups from assembly in the N.B.A. finals? Who else however LeBron James may probably cease Durant from delivering the Nets their first N.B.A. title? And who moreover Durant may impede James’s march to a fifth championship?
It turned out, a lot would get of their approach.
The Nets and the Lakers failed — spectacularly — at creating profitable superteams, although the failures had totally different roots. For the Nets, it was a mixture of the absurd: a star who wouldn’t get vaccinated towards the coronavirus; one other star who needed out after forcing his approach to the Nets in the first place; a substitute star who didn’t even present up for the elimination recreation.
For the Lakers, it was pure Hollywood: an growing older former All-Star who needed the ball for himself when his coach needed him to share; a crew of has-beens hoping for one final hurrah; the A-list star attempting to hold the workforce, however unable to do it the approach he had so many occasions earlier than. Young opponents laughed at them, brazenly, and reveled in precipitating their demise.
The Nets had their critics, too.
“I know so many people wanted to see us fail at this juncture, picked us as contenders, and have so much to say at this point,” Irving mentioned after Monday’s season-ending loss, “so I’m just using that as fuel for the summer.”
In Brooklyn, there have been issues from the begin. Irving refused to be vaccinated towards the coronavirus. And due to New York City ordinances that required most people to be not less than partially vaccinated to enter services reminiscent of sports activities arenas, the Nets gave Irving an ultimatum: Get the shot, or keep residence. Irving selected to remain residence. The season began with out him.
By the center of December, the Nets relented after they allowed Irving to rejoin them as a part-time worker for many highway video games. In a twist, they wanted him, they mentioned, due to the coronavirus itself: Seven of their gamers had been held out of a recreation towards the Orlando Magic as a result of they’d entered the N.B.A.’s Covid-19 well being and security protocols, leaving the workforce short-handed. The Nets had additionally misplaced Joe Harris, one in all their prime outdoors shooters, to an ankle damage.
Just weeks into the season, the Nets’ superteam was starting to come back unglued. Younger groups have been unfazed by them. It hardly helped that James Harden was scuffling by means of one in all his worst N.B.A. seasons. But he was nonetheless taking his share of pictures — at Irving. At one level, Harden informed reporters that he would vaccinate Irving himself, revealing a glimpse of his frustration. As Harden grew more and more disgruntled, the Nets pulled the plug, sending him to the Philadelphia 76ers in February in alternate for a package deal that included Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond and draft picks.
It was a swift finish to the Nets’ superteam experiment, exhibiting how difficult it may be to assemble a roster with store-bought stars: You can’t simply throw them collectively and count on it to work, irrespective of how superior their particular person expertise.
Yet amid the wreckage of the Nets’ midseason commerce emerged a brand new superteam — one which was supposed to incorporate Simmons, a three-time All-Star chosen No. 1 general in 2016. The drawback was that Simmons arrived with a balky again and self-described psychological well being points. He couldn’t observe, a lot much less take the courtroom for video games.
The hits saved coming. Durant missed 21 video games with a sprained knee. The Nets went on a shedding streak, which despatched them spiraling down the Eastern Conference standings. The workforce tried to shore up its backcourt by signing Goran Dragic, however then he examined constructive for the virus. New York City finally lifted its vaccination ordinances, which meant Irving may play in residence video games. But that left the Nets with little time to construct chemistry for the playoffs.
Even then, they needed to scramble for a spot in the postseason.
“I wish we had more continuity as a group, but that’s just the league — every team goes through that,” Durant mentioned this week, including: “It’s a lot of stuff that happens throughout a season that you need to go well in order for you to be a good team, and a lot of things didn’t go our way.”
For the Nets, needing to undergo the play-in event to get into the playoffs was a minor disaster. What occurred to the Lakers was worse.
The whole workforce received vaccinated forward of the season to keep away from the sorts of disruptions the Nets skilled, however different impediments arose. Injuries to James and Anthony Davis, an eight-time All-Star, made continuity troublesome. A December coronavirus outbreak meant the obtainable roster always modified. Worst of all, the on-court mixtures didn’t work.
Lots of that needed to do with Russell Westbrook, for whom the Lakers traded final summer season, anticipating him to be a 3rd celebrity alongside James and Davis.
Westbrook, 33, was the most obtainable of the three Lakers stars, however he was additionally the least efficient.
By midseason, it was clear Westbrook was not going to supply the degree of celebrity play that helped him win the league’s Most Valuable Player Award in 2017 with Oklahoma City. (No M-V-P chants this yr.) Opponents started to ridicule his shot choice and air balls. He was uncomfortable with an offense that didn’t run by means of him. The Lakers had hoped that Westbrook may assist stabilize the workforce when James wasn’t on the courtroom, however that didn’t work.
Westbrook would later accuse Coach Frank Vogel of getting a private drawback with him, claiming he’d by no means earlier than had a problem with any coach or teammate.
“You guys don’t know this, but it was Frank’s and his wife’s anniversary and I actually sent him a bottle of champagne to his hotel room, which you don’t know anything about, because it’s a nice thing to do, nice gesture,” Westbrook mentioned throughout a information convention after the Lakers’ season ended. He added: “I’m not sure what his issue was with me.”
Vogel was fired after the season, and Westbrook, James and Davis performed in solely 21 video games collectively. Their union was not productive on the courtroom, and that left the Lakers with restricted choices for enhancing the remainder of their roster.
On Jan. 9, the Lakers confronted a Memphis Grizzlies workforce on an eight-game successful streak led by the 22-year-old star Ja Morant. Among Morant’s highlights that evening have been a dunk and a two-handed block. James started to bark at Morant’s teammate, Desmond Bane, 23, who later informed reporters he informed James no person was afraid of his footsteps anymore. Their teammate Ziaire Williams performed on the identical highschool workforce as James’s son, LeBron James Jr., who is named Bronny.
With losses accruing and nothing altering, stress constructed.
When James counseled different groups’ executives in February, some questioned if these compliments have been meant to attract a distinction to Rob Pelinka, the Lakers’ vice chairman and normal supervisor. James additionally informed The Athletic he hadn’t closed the door on sometime returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The subsequent week, Rich Paul, James’s agent and enterprise associate, met with Pelinka and Jeanie Buss, the workforce’s proprietor, to guarantee them that James needed to be a Laker long run.
The franchise has lengthy valued star gamers, and it has usually gained championships. Magic Johnson turned a lifelong good friend to Buss, after her father purchased the workforce in 1979. Kobe Bryant spent his whole profession with the Lakers, successful 5 championships — three with Shaquille O’Neal and two with Pau Gasol. The workforce prioritized giving him a noteworthy farewell in his remaining season over growing the workforce’s younger gamers.
Other occasions their affinity for stars has price them.
During the 2012-13 season, the Lakers added Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, hoping they may chase one other championship with Bryant. Injuries and mismatched personalities triggered that workforce to implode. It ended with a first-round playoff loss and Bryant tore his Achilles’ tendon simply over per week earlier than the playoffs, which accelerated the finish of his profession.
The Lakers missed the playoffs for the subsequent six years. They recovered solely when James and Davis joined forces and gained the 2020 championship.
A primary-round exit in 2021 led to the commerce with Washington for Westbrook. The Lakers thought that transfer would assist them win the franchise’s 18th championship. It didn’t.
The Nets had their very own title ambitions this season, and have been nonetheless hoping to coalesce in the playoffs. But the Celtics have been ready for them in the first spherical, with an arsenal of homegrown stars. They had drafted almost all of them, together with Tatum and Jaylen Brown, their prime gamers, and Marcus Smart, the N.B.A.’s defensive participant of the yr. Of course, the Celtics had not been against buying big-name gamers in the previous: They had traded for Irving in 2017. But after two disappointing and drama-filled seasons in Boston, he bolted for Brooklyn.
And there Irving was on Monday, vowing that Brooklyn was the place he needed to be: “I’m here with Kev,” he mentioned, and they might be “managing this franchise together” with the workforce’s entrance workplace.
They initially got here collectively to win championships, and to date they haven’t come by means of. But the desires behind superteams are undefeated — bear in mind, the Lakers and Nets had tried earlier than — even when superteams themselves typically fall quick.
Irving added, “I’ve been recognized for my greatness, but at this point I really just want to be a part of a great team.”