The Secret of Basketball theory from one of the world’s most well known Celtics fans might be the best reason why the Nets should not sign Celtics star Kyrie Irving in free agency. Is it enough to overlook his overwhelming talent?
The Secret of Basketball
“The secret of basketball is that it’s not about basketball.” Bill Simmons wrote that in his 2009 The Book of Basketball. The quote comes from a conversation Simmons had with Isaiah Thomas at a Las Vegas pool. Simmons says this conversation saved his book. This quote should be growing in importance for Nets fans with free agency on the horizon. Most great title teams are built around the idea of the secret. A great example of the “Secret of Basketball” was this year’s Toronto Raptors. By the way, I highly recommend Simmons’ book for basketball fans who have not read it.
So what does that quote actually mean? It means that all the basketball talent in the world does not matter if the pieces do not fit together. The chemistry for the team has to be right. The players have to be complementary. Everyone must know the pecking order. Over the years we have seen the incredibly talented team fail spectacularly. Many of these failures can be attributed to one thing – a failure by front offices to grasp the secret.
Successes of the Secret
The Secret of Basketball is one of the reasons the pre-Durant Warriors teams were so dominant. 68 wins and a title followed by 73 wins does not happen by accident. Those teams played for each other and everyone fit into their role perfectly. Steph was the Alpha and Klay provided secondary scoring. Draymond provided grit and passing. Iggy and Barnes filled in with defense and shooting. The bench was solid. Former number 1 pick Andrew Bogut was ok, not closing games.
Klay could have decided he was just as good a shooter as Curry and started jacking up too many shots. Draymond Green could have decided he was a playmaker and killed the ball moving synergy of the Warriors. Bogut could have complained about playing time. Furthermore, Iggy could have complained about coming off the bench. None of that happened though. If the Warriors did not have that chemistry and the right pecking order they might not have been as successful.
Similarly, the Secret is one of the reasons the Spurs dynasty lasted as long as it did. Tim Duncan was the Alpha Dog and everyone fell in behind him. Talent helps but talent only takes a team so far.
There have been plenty of talented teams with future Hall of Famers that failed to win the championship. When discussing the failure to understand the secret, the first team that always comes to mind is the 2003-2004 Lakers. That team had 4 future Hall of Famers. That Lakers team had prime Shaq, prime Kobe, Karl Malone, and Gary Payton. That team still lost in the NBA Finals even with all of that talent. What happened? Kobe and Shaq clashed all season and the Lakers chemistry tanked.
The Rockets appear to be in trouble for sacrificing chemistry in their goal to find the most mathematically efficient way to play. Chemistry issues seemed to help undue their team this past post-season at exactly the wrong moment. The regular season recipe for success failed. Not many players enjoy watching a teammate iso for 22 seconds before hoisting a step back 3 all game long. Chris Paul begged for more off-ball movement and several recent reports show this caused friction in the locker room. When the playoffs get to their most difficult spots, small things such as chemistry and player happiness matter.
How does this affect the Nets? The Nets team this past year overachieved because they fully embodied the Secret. Remember the Nets were almost entirely driven by one All-Star for two months of the season. The Nets also suffered a devastating injury to one of their up and coming stars. Everyone knew their role on the team. The team fit around each other and they had great chemistry. Russell was the Alpha Dog. Joe Harris provided shooting. Jarrett Allen was a rim runner and paint protector. Kurucs gave toughness. Everyone was willing to sacrifice for each other. Go watch the videos of the bench celebrating. Last years Nets team was all in for each other.
Irving and the Nets
The biggest rumor surrounding the Nets this offseason is that Kyrie Irving will be a Net. This is the same Kyrie Irving who reportedly wanted off of the Cavs after winning a title because it was not his team. Kyrie Irving who was the leader of a Celtics team that had all sorts of chemistry issues this past season. The same Kyrie Irving who publicly calls out his teammates and appeared condescending at times. Without Irving in the playoffs, the Celtics managed to take LeBron James to 7 games in the Eastern Conference Finals. This year with Irving the Celtics exited the playoffs in the second round. This is the exact opposite of everything this Nets team has come to embody. Will the young Nets respond well to Irving’s leadership tactics? Will the chemistry hold? Brooklyn has already witnessed one point guard loaf through seasons and underachieve.
Kyrie Irving is still an incredible basketball player. Compare Irving’s stats to Russell’s stats. Kyrie has better numbers in everything from scoring to shooting percentage to advanced stats such as PER, Win Shares and Box Plus Minus. What Kyrie Irving can do on a basketball court is special. Kyrie can also do special things on the court. Seriously watch his highlights. Today and for the foreseeable future, Kyrie Irving is better than D’Angelo Russell in nearly every way. This is not a knock on DLo but praise of how good Kyrie truly is. A fully engaged Kyrie Irving can elevate a team to a level that D’Angelo Russell cannot yet.
The Future and Lessons from the Raptors
The Nets overachieved and only won 42 games and suffered a gentleman’s sweep in the first round. That first round series was with a fully healthy Nets team as well. Russell looked very pedestrian in the series and his numbers back that up. Irving scored 41 in the NBA Finals against a 73 win team while facing elimination.
The Nets need more talent in the wide open NBA landscape. Irving delivers that. The Warriors are severely injured for next year and the Raptors might lose Kawhi. LeBron might be over the hill and the Bucks might lose Middleton and/or Brogdon. The Sixers can lose Butler and/or Harris and the Celtics are probably going to lose Irving and Horford. Oladipo is coming back from a season-ending injury. What better time to go all in?
The Raptors taught us all the lesson this past year that it is ok to break up a team with great chemistry if it does not work. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan were best friends and DeRozan was traded for a player some thought to be a malcontent. Kawhi was the first star to ever be unhappy with the Spurs and Greg Popovich. Many people around the NBA believed the trade to be a major risk. The trade worked out though. The Kawhi Leonard trade showed us it is ok to upgrade a position on your team with an individual with baggage if you have the right infrastructure in place. Guess what. The Nets have that strong infrastructure.
Finally, getting Kyrie Irving will be the biggest signing in Nets history. Irving can help change the Nets in unimaginable ways. Hopefully, Kyrie can bring a second superstar (Kevin Durant) with him which is something Russell probably cannot do by resigning. Kyrie is an NBA Champion who could possibly disrupt the Nets chemistry.
Can the Nets sign him and adhere to the “Secret of Basketball”? Sean Marks has to consider all of this when signing Kyrie Irving. Everyone associated with the Nets should be asking themselves is Kyrie Irving the right fit?
Sean Marks has gotten a lot right in the last few years. If recent history shows us anything it is that Marks knows what he is doing and that it is ok to blow up a team with great chemistry to bring in a player deemed by some to be a malcontent.
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