In Brooklyn, the Big 3 always made sense because of how often it would be reduced to a Big 2. Trading for James Harden was akin to acquiring insurance on Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, whose long-term availability figured to be uncertain at best.
Durant was coming off a major Achilles injury and was on the other side of 30, while Irving was Irving — a visionary ballhandler with a history of injuries and big-picture concerns that weren’t always aligned with the base responsibilities of an NBA player. The Nets knew there would be days when Irving wouldn’t show up for work.
They had no idea there would be seasons when Irving wouldn’t show up for work.
But that’s where the Nets are as they open Season 2 of their own Neftlix drama in Milwaukee on Tuesday night, when the defending-champion Bucks will receive their rings in a pregame ceremony punctuated by the unveiling of the Bucks’ championship banner in the Fiserv Forum rafters. The Nets should stay out on the court and watch to recall just how much it hurt to lose to Milwaukee in Game 7 of the conference semis in Barclays Center, and just how badly they need to dodge that feeling this time around.
And then the Nets should go out and hammer the home team in an opener they treat with Game 8 urgency. That result would put the league on notice that the Durant-Harden pairing can beat anyone anywhere, and send a message to Irving that Brooklyn can win the whole thing with or without him.