Sean Marks, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

Kyrie Irving’s shoulder woes cast the Brooklyn Nets NBA championship hopes into doubt while putting Sean Marks in a tough spot.

Kyrie Irving’s mysterious shoulder injury is still shrouded in mystery in terms of an official diagnosis. However, it’s not as mysterious as it once was in terms of how it will impact him moving forward.

Pay close attention to 0:13-0:21 of the recent press release:

In short, Kyrie admitted he will probably need to maintain a shoulder maintenance program for the rest of his career. Let that sink in. You don’t have to be a doctor to realize the ramifications of his admission.

This is a chronic injury and it is career altering. In this press release, Irving discussed how he will need to change the way he plays due to the injury. He also insinuated the injury was a result of the many years of practice he put in to become an NBA star.

It appears to be an overuse injury as a result of his determination to be the best at what he does. That’s admirable, but the ecstasy of being great at anything also brings agony.

Irving perfected the art of basketball much like Michelangelo did when he finished the Sistine Chapel, but that endeavor caused Michelangelo’s health and eyesight to rapidly deteriorate.

At this point, it’s fair to ask will Irving ever be the same player he once was?

Many Brooklyn Nets fans were elated at the prospect of Irving’s return to the lineup. Although many overlooked the long-term implications of his injury and how it will affect his play and the team in general.

When fully healthy, Kyrie is capable of putting up monster numbers offensively. Posting his statistics is unnecessary. He is one of the best offensive players in the NBA when he’s not injured.

But what will the future hold for him with his right shooting shoulder severely compromised? It will certainly affect his shooting. It will probably affect his dribbling as well. It will assuredly impact how he fights through screens.

Most importantly, how will this injury affect his already questionable durability? How many games will he miss due to load management? If he injures it further will it require surgery? Does it already require surgery? Would surgery fully heal him? These are more fair questions to ask.

Next, what does this injury mean for the Nets? If Irving is constantly in and out of the lineup with his efficacy downgraded how will this affect the team? This can have a detrimental impact on the team moving forward.

The Nets are already without a third reliable point guard and they won’t have much in cap space to go out and get one via trade or free agency. That is a current problem but the long-term problem is the Nets championship aspirations have always hinged on them having a healthy Irving and Kevin Durant to carry them to a title.

Make no mistake about it: the first part of that equation is already in doubt based on the recent news of Irving’s injury probably requiring maintenance for the rest of his career.

As if that were not enough to cast doubt on the Nets’ future as title contenders, the team still has to wait and see if Durant can return to his former self. Durant’s recovery from his Achilles injury was always the primary concern, but after the recent news regarding Irving’s shoulder, Kyrie’s long-term health has now become the primary concern.

To further complicate this mess is the friendship between Durant and Irving. If the friendship didn’t exist, they wouldn’t even be on the Nets together. However, the friendship, combined with their injuries, could be the very thing that keeps the Nets out of title contention.

It puts general manager Sean Marks in a seemingly impossible situation. Irving could very well be damaged goods. He has three more years on his contract with a player option in the 2022 season worth $36.5 million which Irving would probably opt-in if he was severely injured (which could be a reality by then). Irving will make $33.3 million next season and $34.9 million in 2021.

Supposing Irving and Durant were not friends, the logical thing for Marks to do would be to shop Irving while he plays through the shoulder injury to sell high on him and trade him before his chronic shoulder injury potentially derails his career and turns his contract into an immovable toxic asset.

The reality is Irving and Durant are close friends and trading the former may not even be an option for Marks when it should be on the table. Irving is a superstar who even while injured can bring in massive revenue for a small market team. He still has value in that regard and may garner suitors for a trade but would Marks even consider this prospect that most fans deem unthinkable?

This unfortunate circumstance has the Nets at an impasse. Keeping Irving negatively impacts their championship contention probability due to his injury, but trading him might embitter Durant which would also affect their championship contention probability.

The Nets have a realistic two-year title window to win a championship with Durant, but it’s less realistic with a diminished Irving on the roster. It’s very hard to imagine Durant coming off an Achilles injury at age 32 to carry this Nets team to a title if Irving cannot be the healthy version of himself.

It’s also virtually impossible to imagine Irving being a healthy version of himself anymore. The Nets roster is simply not good enough to contend for a title under these circumstances.

Before even thinking about a title, could the Nets topple a team as potent as the Milwaukee Bucks with a compromised Irving? Could Durant lead the charge in the Eastern Conference Finals like this? Could they even get there? Who’s stopping Giannis Antetokounmpo and the bevy of shooters around him?

The Nets are already over the salary cap in guaranteed contracts for next season and Marks has an important decision to make regarding the impending unrestricted free agency of Joe Harris this summer. They have bird rights to Harris and can resign him if they choose to go deeper into the luxury tax and Harris agrees to remain a Net.

Assuming no other players are traded before the February deadline the Nets will have very little cap flexibility to add quality players to the roster outside of exception contracts. Considering this, would it not be wiser to try and get out from under the Irving and DeAndre Jordan contracts as quickly as possible before both players decline as experts predict?

Trades can be complicated, but if the Nets are serious about winning a title in the next two years—assuming Durant would agree to let Marks trade Irving and Jordan—there are a few teams who have players and assets the Nets could use to replace Irving and Jordan.

Such trades could alleviate some of the Nets salary cap issues as well if they take back a high figure expiring contract now. This would potentially give Marks the freedom to sign some reliable 3-and-D wings to surround Durant, supplant the weak bench, add a healthy point guard and still keep the Nets in contention for a title if Durant returns to form.

In the end, it really comes down to whether Durant cares more about his friendship with Irving or winning rings. Durant already has two rings to his legacy, which is just one shy of LeBron James, who he’s previously dominated in the NBA Finals.

Durant is already an NBA legend, but if he wants to move up the ladder in the pantheon of all-time greats he might have to trust Marks to do what’s best for the Nets title aspirations and that might include agreeing to let Marks trade Irving while he still can.

It would appear Marks is at the mercy of Joseph Tsai’s business interests, Durant’s emotions and Irving’s chronic injury. That’s a difficult spot to be in for any GM. Marks used to have autonomy in the personnel decision-making process that got the Nets to where they are now, but he may no longer have that full autonomy.

The alternative to any potential Irving trade is for Marks to simply cross his fingers and hope Irving’s shoulder maintenance program will be successful in the next three years and allow him to play at the high level he’s accustomed to.

That’s the most likely path the Nets will take, but it’s a path this franchise has seen before in terms of a chronic injury to a star player and that turned out terribly.

The last thing the Nets franchise needs is another Deron Williams situation with Irving. While that may be a bridge too far for some to see now, that potentiality is certainly there given Irving’s new chronic shoulder injury.

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