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Are This Year's Nets the Most Championship-or-Bust Team of All Time?

Liam McKeone
Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving
Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving / Al Bello/GettyImages
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The phrase "championship or bust" is thrown around a lot in sports discussion spheres. Colloquially, it essentially means the team or player in question is all-in on winning a title that year. The stars seem to be aligning and time is running short for one reason or another. Coming up short would be a significantly bigger disappointment than for most other teams. Every year, no matter the sport, there are one or two "championship or bust" teams that are expected to compete for the big one. To fail in their quest will mean consequences to some degree.

After Kevin Durant decided to rescind his trade request, it is clear the Brooklyn Nets are the NBA's biggest championship or bust team for next season. In fact, this writer wonders if they are the most championship or bust team we've ever seen.

Teams usually get slapped with the championship or bust label because they have an aging superstar whose clock is ticking, i.e. all of LeBron James' teams for the last five years. Or they pulled off a series of big moves that sacrifices the future for the present, i.e. the 2021 Los Angeles Rams. The central idea of this concept is that nobody knows how long championship windows will remain open and some teams decide to take that to heart by pushing all their chips into the middle for one season with no care for the next.

The thing is, with most of the teams you're currently thinking of as legendary championship or bust contenders, what happens if they "bust" tends not to be as worse as we'd think. Last year's Los Angeles Lakers were championship or bust, and they busted bad, but one year later they'll still have LeBron and Anthony Davis. If the Rams didn't win the Super Bowl this past season they'd still be rolling into 2022 with Matthew Stafford and Sean McVay. The success of the following year wasn't entirely predicated on whether they succeeded in a championship or bust season.

But these Nets? Everything is reliant on whether or not they can win an NBA championship. I mean everything. If the Nets reach the Finals and emerge victorious, KD will not ask for another trade. Kyrie Irving will have proved himself to be useful and available enough to get the contract he wants from Brooklyn, who will happily dole out everything they're asked for if a ring comes attached. Ben Simmons will have shaken off all the doubts and molded himself into a championship-level third wheel. We know all these things to be true because it's the only way Brooklyn ends up winning a title next year. All questions about Steve Nash or Sean Marks disappear in a puff of smoke. The problems that led the Nets to become the biggest clown show in the NBA for the last eight months will be forgotten.

Of course, if they don't win, then those problems will only be exacerbated. Kyrie will flee the Tristate area, probably for Los Angeles, as soon as free agency opens. This knowledge will cause KD to ask for a trade. Again. The Nets will acquiesce this time around because they won't be contenders with just KD and Simmons and send him out for a much smaller package than what they've been demanding this summer. Nash gets canned at the end of the year, if he makes it that long. Marks closely follows him. Joe Tsai may very well contemplate selling the whole team after the headaches caused by the KD/Kyrie partnership.

If Brooklyn doesn't win a title this year, they go from a roster featuring two Hall of Famers and a strong bench to a roster featuring Simmons and maybe another All-Star with a bunch of role players. All while unable to tank because they owe all their picks to the Houston Rockets. Stuck in purgatory once more. They'd certainly be in a better spot than the true dark days in the aftermath of the Paul Pierce/Kevin Garnett trade, but far from a legitimate contender with few avenues to improve.

That's a true championship or bust team right there. Winning the championship will bring the highest of highs and eliminate nearly every roadblock that popped up in 2022 in the process. Falling short means utter destruction for the roster as it stands and a litany of heads will roll.

If the Nets aren't the most aggressive example of this type of team in history, they're certainly the best example in recent history. It's hard to think of any team that has such an obvious variance of extreme outcomes before they even step foot on the court.

The 2022-23 Brooklyn Nets will embody the championship or bust concept. Win, and all is well. Lose, and it's fire and brimstone for an entire summer. No pressure, though!

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