For the Brooklyn and former New Jersey Nets, the reality of success and luck seems like an impossible achievement. The franchise has been used to the theme bad luck that fans are probably used to the enigma thrown at them.
In the summer of 2013 the Brooklyn Nets traded for Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Jason Terry in exchange for five players and three future first round picks (2014, ’16, ’18) including the rights to swap picks with the Celtics in 2017. In an attempt to make a formidable team to compete with the three-star powered Miami Heat, the deal which was supposed to give the Nets a chance at a championship, ruined the team’s future for the next four years.
After being eliminated in the 2014 Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Miami Heat, Paul Pierce left that offseason and Kevin Garnett got traded to the Timberwolves later next season during the trade deadline. On the other hand, The Boston Celtics were able to draft players like Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, and Jayson Tatum from the picks acquired from the trade in 2013. Following the 2014 season, the Nets’ fortunes went downhill so fast the Celtics who missed the playoffs the year after trading Pierce and Garnett, made the playoffs in 2015 with a higher seed than the Nets, who were the eighth seed that year.
For Nets fans it has been hard letting go of the past as the last two years have been torturous as they have watched the Celtics succeed and benefit from the infamous trade five years ago. The jokes and memes from the media about the trade have been haunting the fanbase and pride of the team for years. The sense of hope has seemed like an impossible reality.
Fast forward to present day and hope seems far but there seems to be small optimism along the horizon. Since taking over as general manager in 2016, Sean Marks has tried his best to turn his limited assets into a young and up and coming team. From acquiring D’Angelo Russell last summer to turning Spencer Dinwiddie into an NBA player, the team has become a group of young hungry players and playing a likable never give up style of game every night.
Russell has been controversial throughout his career and there are still doubts about his potential to be a star. Although he started the 2017-2018 season averaging 21 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists, he ended the year with pretty much identical number from his two years in Los Angeles. People still question is he mentally strong or mature to be the star people want him to be and have argued even Dinwiddie made a bigger impact than he did.
Still, at 21, the talent and potential of D’Angelo is still there and can still be reached. In an interview with NetsDaily on April 12, fellow Nets teammate Demarre Carroll said, “His talent – nobody in this room or arena will question his talent. You just want him to do it consistently. D’Angelo is probably the closest thing we have to an all-star on our team if he did it consistently. Me, being his big brother, being a leader, I just challenge him to come in and hit it hard every day.”
The hope is if D Lo can put his talent into more work and it seems a solution of better work ethic can out him over the top. He still has showed great flashes, especially a game against Toronto where posted the franchise’s first triple double since 2010.
Dinwiddie, who took the starting spot after Russel got injured, was probably one of the highlights of the team this year. He took huge strides as a presumed journeyman to becoming a respected player among his peers in the NBA. He saved the Nets from being one of the worst in the league and put up great performances against the Cavaliers and Timberwolves making clutch plays. His game against the Timberwolves, where he recorded 26 points, nine assists and a game winner, woke people up and established himself around the league as a legitimate NBA player.
Dinwiddie did end the year on a little bad stretch and actually ended up coming off the bench again towards the end of the year. Question remains if he will be starting next year or even on the team but there is huge respect from many among the league.
Along with Russell and Dinwiddie, the Nets have turned late first-round picks like Rondae Hollis Jefferson, Caris Levert, and last year’s first rounder Jarrett Allen into promising players as well. Hollis Jefferson has taken huge leaps improving his offense game with being able to hit consistent mid range shots and has improved his points per game immensely from 8.7 to 13.9 playing as an undersized four. Levert has also taken big strides and is really an unknown commodity as he is averaging 12.1 points per game. Allen, who was the Nets first round pick from last year’s draft, wasn’t expected to contribute at all his rookie year, was the team’s starting center for 31 games this year and has potential to be a great defensive center with some offensive game.
Another player who has blossomed in Brooklyn has been Joe Harris, who last year had no expectations but to just fill a roster spot. Harris has been known as a sharpshooter who led the Nets this season in three point percentage, shooting 41.9% from three. But Harris actually was second in the league in the efficiency on drives to the rim averaging 59.2% only behind LeBron James.
A lot of this development and style of play has to be given to Kenny Atkinson. He still has question marks as a coach as he hasn’t been given the best talent, which is undersized and has been known to go considerably small a lot which has given teams with big like Dwight Howard or Andre Drummond monster games throughout the year. But the development of Harris, Rondae, and Dinwiddie most likely might have not happened without the development and trust of Atkinson. But, more important than the talent development and culture, Atkinson has done a great job making his guys compete every night. Teams and coaches have acknowledged their great effort each night and you see can see it or feel it. Even last year when they were much worse you could see they were different than the teams with Deron Williams and Joe Johnson which were filled with veteran guys who had no hunger. As of present day the current roster has a mentality that the team hasn’t had in a long time which is what the franchise is trying to build regardless of the talent presented.
Looking ahead the Nets will have their picks back next year and the embarrassment of seeing another team will their picks will end.The big theme and mystery is if the Nets can still catch a break and end their years of bad luck and disappointment. There is better talent but is it enough compared to the others around the league? Marks is also left in a tough spot where team might be not be the worst but not good enough and the picks they got back after so many years might not be that valuable. He might need to consider taking it slow which might mean “tanking,” but is it worth it after so many years of losing and that is from the entire history of the franchise? The reality of hope seems so far fetched but the Nets should be in a better position for the long term and are doing the right things to for the best of the franchise.