The Revival of the Brooklyn NetsMarch 9, 2019
By: Matthew Lippe, Sports Analyst
The Brooklyn Nets were the laughing stock of the NBA for the past couple of years. However, the Nets have changed their narrative this season, with a combination of young talent and a looming playoff berth. So how did a change of this magnitude happen so rapidly? Today we will dive into what has allowed the Nets to defy the odds and be able to become a playoff team in such a short amount of time.
During the 2012 offseason, the New Jersey Nets officially became the Brooklyn Nets. This was a move that had been in the cards for a while, for when Mikhail Prokhorov took over the team in 2009 he started making plans to move the team. The move was still met with some uncertainty, because many were not sure how another team not named the Knicks would be supported. The Nets had called New Jersey home since the days of the ABA and moving them concerned a lot of fans. In the beginning, though, the Nets would prove the doubters wrong, making the playoffs the first three years and pulling off an ambitious trade for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in 2014. The foundation was set for the Nets to succeed, but everything quickly fell apart.
At the time, the 2014 trade for Garnett, Pierce, and Jason Terry in exchange for a slew of first round draft picks and reserve players seemed like a good move for the Nets: there first round picks would not be worth much if they kept winning and they had two future hall-of-famers. However, this outlook proved to be very faulty. For one, Paul Pierce and KG significantly declined. Both of their stats fell tremendously and it was evident that two aging stars did not have many miles left in the tank. Pierce would play just one season with the Nets, and Garnett would be traded halfway through his second. This change of events lead to the Nets falling from a playoff contender to a bottom-feeder. Even worse, unlike other bad NBA teams, the Nets were without their first-round picks, which meant there was little hope for success any-time soon, so they began the long, grueling road of rebuilding.
There has been a lot of talk about the Sixers “process”, but I would argue that the Nets formula of a rebuild is even more efficient. For example, the Sixers missed the playoffs for 5 years until returning and wasted a multitude of draft picks in the process. While they succeeded in drafting two all-stars in Embiid and Simmons, they poorly drafted Michael Carter-Williams (11th pick), Jahlil Okafor (3rd Pick), and Markelle Fultz (1st pick). If they had drafted better, the Sixers would have been able to rebuild much faster. On the other hand, the Nets had only a few late first round picks to be able to turn their team around. From the last time they made the postseason, 2015, to 2018, the Nets had four first round picks, all 22nd or later. While it is possible to draft talent outside the lottery (as they were able to do with Jarrett Allen), it makes it much more difficult, so the Nets resorted to a different tactic: trading and picking up unwanted players.
One of these players was D’Angelo Russell. The former second overall pick, quickly overstayed his welcome with the Los Angeles Lakers. For starters, Magic Johnson called him a player incapable of leading a team and did not see Russell in the future plans of the Lakers. So, the Lakers traded Russell and Timofey Mozgov to the Nets in exchange for Brook Lopez and a late first round pick. While the Lakers did not see potential in Russell, the Nets saw someone who could be the face of the franchise. Russell’s confidence increased outside the LA pressure and his game has blossomed as a result. Russell was named an All-Star this year and is averaging career highs in points, assists, and three point percentage. Russell will be up for a new contract this offseason and the Nets will do everything in their power to keep the young All-Star.
Another player is Joe Harris. Harris had been in and out of the G-League for the first two years of his career and after being traded and waived by the Orlando Magic, the Nets signed the young guard in the 2016 offseason. With a chance to shine, Harris cemented himself as a solid contributor with the Nets, averaging 9.8 points and shooting 40% from 3. During this past offseason, the Nets signed Harris to a 2 year, 16 million dollar deal and it has paid off. Harris won the three point contest this year and is deadly three point shooter, which helps spread the floor for the Nets.
Finally, there is Spencer Dinwiddie. Much like Harris, he received very minimal playing time in his first two years with the Detroit Pistons and was assigned to the G-League on numerous occasions. This would all change when he signed with the Nets in the middle of 2016-2017 season. With more playing time, Dinwiddie has been able to improve each season with the Nets, increasing his points per game by nearly 5 points each year. Currently, Dinwiddie is averaging 17.2 points and 5 assists, and the Nets secured him for another three years, as they signed him to a 3 year extension this past December.
Look up and down the Nets roster and you’ll find hard working players like Russell, Harris, and Dinwiddie. Jarrett Allen has quickly become a great rim protector in only his second season. Caris LeVert, even after suffering an injury, has improved each year with the Nets. Allen Crabbe, having finally found a home with the Nets, is a key role player who can hit threes at a high rate. These type of players are what have driven the Nets to success.
The Nets are in line for a return to the playoffs, which would be there first appearance since the 2015 postseason. The Nets have learned from their mistakes and they know the type of players that are going to help their team succeed: not the old NBA stars like Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, but the overlooked, hardworking young talent, like Russell, Harris and Dinwiddie. With a solid foundation, the Nets now have a future they can count on.