wo players, one from the NBA's Eastern Conference, and one from the Western Conference have a lot of pressure entering this season.
NBA star Kyrie Irving has been under heavy criticism in recent weeks, and sadly, he has brought most of that on himself. The Brooklyn Nets are now favored to come out of the NBA's Eastern Conference with the arrival of superstar Kevin Durant, but with Durant coming off an Achilles injury, many eyes will be on Irving, who spent the better part of last season's campaign injured.
Unfortunately for Irving, his supposed feud with the media isn't doing himself any favors, and his comments are hurting him more than anything.
In a recent podcast a few weeks ago, Irving mentioned that teaming up with Durant is the first time he could look down and know that a teammate can be just as deadly down the stretch with the final shot.
"One thing I've been comfortable with is I felt like I was the best option on every team I played for down the stretch. This is the first time in my career where I could look down and be like, he can make that shot too, and he'd probably do it easier".
Many talk shows dissected Irving's comments, and logically concluded that Irving omitted the elephant in the room in LeBron James, who was the undisputed best player on the team during those playoff runs with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Irving's marriage with Boston didn't end well either, and his comments did alienate his teammates within the locker room, which translated onto the court:
"It's been a trying year for us. Because we basically have a bunch of young men in our locker room that feel like they're capable of doing a lot more than what they're doing".
Even recently, Irving flat out refused to show up during media day availability, and while he got fined $25 000, and released a statement saying that he hopes that money goes towards a charitable cause, he ended that statement with a controversial line, which just added to the layers of negative narratives surrounding the star:
"I do not talk to pawns".
Lastly, the Nets hired first time coach Steve Nash, and instead of Irving welcoming his coach, he made a comment which completely diminished the valuable role of an NBA head coach, and this rubbed people the wrong way:
"I don't see us having a head coach. You know what I mean? KD could be head coach. I could be head coach".
Then there is the question of Kyrie's durability, which has been concerning especially in the last couple seasons. Outside of last season where he missed a massive chunk of games, he missed 111 of 492 games during his time with the Cleveland Cavaliers and 37 of 164 games during his short stint with the Boston Celtics. Back in the 2014-15 NBA campaign, he played a career high 75 games, but even in that year, he got injured during game 1 of the NBA finals, missing the rest of that critical final series.
His questionable flat earth comments aside, and with this public perception slowly diminishing, it is safe to say that Irving has to prove that he is still among the top few elite in the NBA. There's no question that he can as long as he can stay healthy, but chemistry related questions could arise due to his past aforementioned experiences.
With that said, Kyrie Irving isn't the only player that is going to be under a microscope.
In the Western Conference, Paul George just inked in a 5 year, $226 million dollar deal with the LA Clippers, which secures a long term future and shows that the Clippers still believe in George's abilities despite his shortcomings in the post season.
And shortcomings are putting it lightly.
While George puts up great regular season numbers, particularly 2 seasons ago when he was top 5 in the MVP voting, in the playoffs, he has shrunk and failed to show up.
His Indiana Pacer days are long gone, and he hasn't been to the Western Conference Finals since 2014 despite being with another star level player in Russell Westbrook and now Kawhi Leonard for the last three years.
The loss to the Utah Jazz in the 2019 is still a jarring dark memory for many fans of George, particularly when he finished with just 5 measly points in game 6 against the mighty Joe Ingles, which was a critical elimination game.
George followed that failure up with this past season's playoffs, which ended in the now infamous failure of dropping a 3-1 lead against the Denver Nuggets. That game 7 collapse by the Clippers couldn't have been any worse when it comes to ending a season.
To be fair, George has pointed out that he was struggling with mental health in the bubble, and that cannot be overlooked; but whether or not there is a mental block is not the question, since we have seen flashes of him playing at an elite level, it just needs to be done more consistently, and when it truly counts.
To top it off, now that former head coach of the LA Clippers Doc Rivers left for the 76ers, Paul George recently opened up on the "All the Smoke" podcast and explained how he felt like he wasn't being used properly:
"The way I was being used, I felt like Doc was trying to play me like Ray Allen or J.J Redick, all pin-downs. I can do it, but that ain't my game. I need some flow. I need some mixes of pick and rolls. I need some post-ups, just different touches. And so it was just - last season was just hard overall."
Doc Rivers didn't make Paul George hit the side of the backboard in a fourth quarter during a decisive game 7.
It's time both Kyrie and PG held themselves accountable for their own actions on and off the court. That will go a long way and will be a first big step towards the right direction. Both players have a lot to prove, and only time will tell how things end up.