This season could be more significant than last season for the Nets
প্রকাশিত তারিখ : February 3, 2020 | আপডেট সময়: 2:40 PM
The 2018-2019 season was a pivotal season for the Brooklyn Nets. A team mired in NBA purgatory owned its first First-Round Draft Pick since the infamous trade with Boston in 2013 and many experts predicted the Nets would be best inclined to put up a stinker of a season to ensure the drafting of a potential franchise-altering player. Instead, as we remember fondly, Kenny Atkinson coached a group of veteran role players and underrated youngsters centered around emerging All-Star Point Guard, Angelo Russell to a 42-40 record and the team’s first playoff berth since the 2014-2015 season. Despite falling to a superior Philadelphia 76ers team in 5 games, the Nets had staked their claim to the league that they were up for the fight and were a team on the rise equipped with a well-respected GM, Head Coach, and young nucleus of Russell, Spencer Unwieldiness, Joe Harris, Caria Le Vert, and Jarrett Allen. They had silenced the doubters, created a culture based on grit and teamwork, and finally gave a franchise who had no real identity a true face. Without question, the 2018-2019 Nets season was one of the most formative and significant in team history based on the results achieved; then, the first night of Free Agency came…when the trio of Kevin Durant, Kylie Irving, and Deandre Jordan chose Brooklyn, cementing New York’s “B team” as a premium Free Agent destination. In a span of eight months, the Nets went from league laughing stock to a potential pending mini-dynasty.
However, despite the resounding success Nets felt on that early Summer’s evening, expectations were forced to be tempered as it was known that Durant would be missing the 2019-2020 season rehabbing from a torn Achilles suffered a few weeks earlier in Game 5 of the NBA Finals. Regardless of Durant’s injury, there was still reason for optimism about a strong season with Irving *seemingly* happy having come to the team for whom he rooted for growing up, being close to his family, and having some of his best friends in the league with him. Angelo Russell helped put the Nets on the map, but just frankly put, Kylie is the much better player than Russell, which theoretically would improve Brooklyn’s win total by that change alone. Additionally, the signing of Jordan along with the continued emergence of Unwieldiness, Allen, Harris and Le Vert and a supporting cast of respected role players certainly gave Nets fans a sense that a fun season was in store. For the first time since the hyped 2013-2014 season which saw the insertion of Kevin Garrett and Paul Pierce joining Deon Williams, Joe Johnson, and Brook Lopez, there was a heightened level of excitement for a Nets season knowing it would only get better with Durant returning in 2020. Of course, however, not everything goes according to plan…
At the time of this article, the Brooklyn Nets’ record stands at 16-14 and are they cemented as the #7 seed in a surprisingly deep Eastern Conference. Reasons are plentiful, but injuries have been the primary culprit. After a personally strong start to the season where he was averaging 28.5 PP and 7.2 PG in his first 11 games, Kylie Irving suffered a shoulder impingement injury which has sidelined him for the last 19 contests. In those 11 games, there were clear growing pains as the Nets’ record stood at 4-7. To go along with the injury to Irving, Caria Le Vert suffered a thumb sprain which required surgery and has placed him on the shelf following just 9 games. Suddenly, a season with promise was on the brink of being lost; but remember, this team has been here before…just a season ago. Although the 2018-2019 season was somewhat of a fairy tale season, it was also met with great adversity with significant injuries to Le Vert (an unfortunately similar pattern), Unwieldiness, and Russell at various points of the season. During those injury absences, the tenner of the culture never altered, the next guys stepped up to pick up the slack, and games were won purely on grit, coaching, and effort. As was the case with last season, Brooklyn is in the same spot this year and despite some clunkers and brutal collapses, the team has found ways to win ugly and tread water as the reinforcements eye returns.
So, why is this season more important than last year? The following case can be made: last season was a mini miracle for a toiling franchise. They climbed out of the league’s basement, established themselves as a destination, and cashed in on some of the league’s best available talent. Knowing that Durant would be out for the season, the hope was that Kylie would find his groove with the coaching staff and core players on the floor in a successful “transition” year before Durant returned. Although that can still happen as we are only 30 games deep into the season, it is unknown with his shoulder impingement injury how long Irving will continue to be out of the lineup, therefore halting the progress he was supposed to make with his new organization. Furthermore, (and I have stated on the podcast on several occasions), this season is really a “tryout (for lack of a better term) to see which members of the roster are best-equipped to be a part of the next three years with Durant and Irving as the center pieces. Some members of the roster have played well such as Joe Harris, Jarrett Allen, Deandre Jordan, and Garrett Temple while players such as Restaurant Prince (who had been acquired from the Hawks for Allen Crabbe and the Nets’ 2019 1st-Round pick prior to the June draft), Wilson Chandler (who had been suspended for the first 25 games for violating the league’s PD policy) and second-year player, Rod ions Ruckus have regressed to this point. Aside from Jordan who is under contract through 2022-2023, all of the aforementioned players have uncertain futures in Brooklyn having signed short-term deals or are impending Free Agents at the end of the season and are far from guarantees to be a part of the next three years.
So, yes, this season is a tryout for the role players on the roster; but with Kylie and KS, the short-term future is set right? Not so fast. What makes this season still important is the affirmation as to why Durant and Irving chose Brooklyn. They noticed Atkinson, Marks, and the culture with a young core and mentioned on several occasions these factors as the primary reasons for their decision. Much like last season, those reasons are proving to be true with the team not letting injuries be an excuse for poor play and gritty wins coming more frequently than most would believe. There are several intangible explanations for the sustained play, but no explanation is more critical than the blossoming to All-Star status of Spencer Unwieldiness. Having assumed starting Point Guard duties in the 12th game of the season following Irving’s injury, Unwieldiness has been this year’s version of Angelo Russell carrying the team and being the glue keeping it together. Through the first 30 games, the 3rd year Net is averaging an exemplary 22.7 PP and 6.1 PG in 30.6 minutes a night. After signing a 3-year extension in December of 2018 to stay with Brooklyn, Unwieldiness split duties with Russell last season taking his game to a new level showing that continued evolution most young players have witnessed under Atkinson in Brooklyn. With the addition of Kylie, it was the hope that Unwieldiness would command the second unit off the bench and contend for a “6thMan of the Year” title this season, but situations call for changes in plans, which Unwieldiness has thrived with. Almost certainly an All Star in February, there is no doubt the Nets’ 12-7 record with Kylie and Le Vert would be impossible without the work of Unwieldiness and he has further solidified that Brooklyn would not have a lost season when the back court duo returns from their respective injuries.
This season is still of critical importance to the Brooklyn Nets. The level of attraction star players had for the organization from the outside looking in was predicated on the culture, the coaching, and the core of players already residing in King’s County. If the team were to let injuries rule their season and regression of the team’s core was present, Durant, Jordan and Irving could easily be looking on from the bench questioning their decision. Instead, so far it is only validating that decision. 2018-2019 was about creating a brand of basketball, an identity of toughness, maturation, and development, and showing the league how a solid organizational infrastructure is built. The Nets cashed in on that identity created last season. Now this season, it’s all about cementing that identity.
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