30 Teams in 30 Days: Active Nets ready for big jump in East

NBA.com Global on Sep 17, 2019 06:59 AM
30 Teams in 30 Days: Active Nets ready for big jump in East
Photo c/o @brooklynnets

Like most summers in the NBA, the 2019 edition was chock full of trades, free agent news and player movement. From the defending-champion Toronto Raptors to just about every other team in the league, change was the most applicable word when it came to describing team rosters for the 2019-20 season.

With the opening of training camps just around the corner, NBA.com's Shaun Powell will evaluate the state of each franchise as it sits today -- in order of regular-season finish from 2018-19 -- as we look at 30 teams in 30 days.

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Today's team: Brooklyn Nets

2018-19 Record: 42-40, lost to the Sixers in first round of playoffs

Key additions: Kevin Durant (free agency), Kyrie Irving (free agency), DeAndre Jordan (free agency), Garrett Temple (free agency), Wilson Chandler (free agency), Taurean Prince (trade)

Key departures: D'Angelo Russell, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Allen Crabbe, Jared Dudley, DeMarre Carroll, Ed Davis, Shabazz Napier

The lowdown: The remarkable climb of a franchise left in ruins by a disastrous trade four years ago continued in earnest when the Nets reached the playoffs. This was a culmination of clever work by GM Sean Marks and a solid coaching job by Kenny Atkinson, and of course, the effort from a batch of hungry and scrappy players most of whom carried mild credentials.

It was a breakout season for Russell, the young point guard who showed maturity and a deadly jumper while earning an All-Star berth. That, symbolically, was yet another step in the right direction the franchise has taken since surrendering its future to the Boston Celtics in the ill-fated Paul Pierce/Kevin Garnett trade.

Russell averaged 21.1 points and seven assists per game and ranked in the top 25 in fourth-quarter scoring. The club received a scare when swingman Caris LeVert, who started strongly, crashed early in the season with a gruesome-looking leg injury initially. However, LeVert eventually returned to the lineup by playoff time. Joe Harris led the league in 3-point shooting (47.4%) and won the Three-Point contest. Center Jarrett Allen made big strides defensively and became an internet sensation because of his rim-denying blocks against a handful of stars. And Spencer Dinwiddie, who shared the playmaking chores with Russell, transformed from a journeyman into a Sixth Man of the Year candidate with a career season, averaging 16.8 ppg and 4.6 apg.

The Nets added to their uplifting season by taking the opening game of their playoff series against the Sixers. Strangely enough, bigger surprises and prizes awaited them in the offseason as 2018-19 was undoubtedly a turning point for Brooklyn.

Summer summary: After showcasing Julius Erving to the world and winning a pair of ABA titles with him in the 1970s, the Nets franchise never attached itself to that level of star power again. Sure, they had a taste here and there: prime Jason Kidd, Deron Williams, post-Toronto Vince Carter and maybe a few others. Only four times did the Nets make the cover of Sports Illustrated, for example, but it was for Derrick Coleman’s petulance, Kidd's excellence, Kenyon Martin’s snarl and earlier this decade when the mag bravely predicted the Nets (with an aging Garnett and Pierce) were title favorites.

Well, times have a’changed.

In a dizzy and a doozy of an offseason, the Nets bagged not one, but two franchise players in their primes with championship pedigree. Irving and Durant shook the league by arriving to Brooklyn in a package deal through free agency, a development that would’ve been met with laughter had you suggested it just years ago. It’s the offseason the New York Knicks aimed for but will stare at across the East River in envy.

Credit Marks for largely making this happen. He has become one of the NBA's best GMs after inheriting a mess and creating an organization that appealed to a pair of elite talents. Durant and Irving saw what we saw: a club with a good young core, steered by a respectable coach and led by a GM who can take a thread of polyester and churn it into silk.

There’s a hitch, as you know. Durant, the two-time Finals MVP, is recovering from offseason Achilles surgery and there’s the likelihood of him sitting the entire season. Even that worst-case scenario would be OK with the Nets, who have no urgency to take risks with arguably the NBA's best player.

As for Irving, he’s coming off a season where once again he solidified his place among the league’s premier point guards … and also fed his reputation for being quirky and moody. It was that kind of season with the Celtics, where Irving displayed poor leadership skills and couldn’t push the Celtics into The Finals. He quickly prepared an exit strategy -- one that was endorsed by Celtics fans -- which led him to linking up with Durant and seeking a new frontier and beginning.

Durant and Irving made the Nets the co-winners of the Best Offseason Award, which they split with the Kawhi Leonard-Paul George LA Clippers. Brooklyn seems poised for another big jump in its redevelopment and it arriving in 2019-20 depends largely on Durant. But even if Durant sits out this season, Irving has every incentive to give the Nets what he didn’t give the Celtics last season.

Brooklyn's price for progress (besides a ton of money) was sacrificing Russell, whose value to the club dipped once Irving signed up. Yet he was the only significant loss for Brooklyn. It refused to extend Hollis-Jefferson’s rookie deal and erased another obsolete player by tossing Crabbe (and his $18 million contract) to Atlanta to free up money for Durant and Irving.

In the Crabbe trade, the Nets had to send a pair of first-rounders to the Hawks, but that was a small price. In that trade, though, Brooklyn also got a developing swingman in Prince. He brings solid 3-point shooting (39% last season) and can team with Harris to give Brooklyn good court spacing.

As a bonus, the Durant-Irving package came with Jordan, their buddy and an established rebounding and shot-blocking veteran who gives depth at center. Allen will likely remain the starter, but Jordan provides frontcourt insurance at this stage of his career.

The summer was downright seismic for Brooklyn, and in time, the Nets can position themselves for a sharp rise in the Eastern Conference. With Durant and Irving, they have the necessary stars, and in Dinwiddie, LeVert and Allen, the required supporting cast. The degree of immediate improvement depends on Durant’s recovery, yet there’s no mistaking where the empire state of mind lives when it comes to basketball in New York.

Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here, and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting. 

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