Column: The Brooklyn Nets and fighting misery with fun

Brooklyn Nets guard Sean Kilpatrick (6) drives the ball around Denver Nuggets guard Jameer Nelson (1) in the first half of an NBA basketball game in New York, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016. The Nets won 116-111. (Kathy Kmonicek/AP Photo)

A little more than a year ago, I wrote a column about the miserable lifestyle of being an invested Brooklyn Nets fan, considering the dire state of both the franchise’s present and its future. The past isn’t much to write home about either, but I digress.

To recap, as much as that pains me: in June 2013, the Nets sent three first-round draft picks (2014, 2016 and 2018) to the Boston Celtics for future Hall of Famers Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Brooklyn also surrendered swap rights in 2017.

The Nets never won anything of consequence with those two guys, and sunk to the bottom of the standings last season, finishing with a 21-61 record to hand Boston the third pick in the 2016 NBA draft, which became California forward Jaylen Brown.

“The Brooklyn Nets have no future,” I wrote in that column last year. I also compared Nets fandom to owning Enron stock. It was pretty dark. For 82 games, Brooklyn played pitiful, boring basketball, and then handed away the fruits of their labor to a division rival that continues to rise up the NBA Eastern Conference standings, with two painful handoffs remaining.

Now, on the surface level, nothing appears to have changed about a quarter of the way through the 2016-17 season. The Nets are 6-15, which is good for 14th in the East as of Thursday afternoon, and starting point guard Jeremy Lin has been out with a hamstring injury since Nov. 2. Only NBA three teams have worse winning percentages through Wednesday’s games.

Boston, currently 13-9, is nearly guaranteed to finish with a better record, and swap their first-round pick for Brooklyn’s pick, which will likely be high in the lottery.

But as grisly as the circumstances remain, a newfound ingredient has been introduced into Nets fandom: fun. Yes, even for these awful Nets, owners of that dreadful .286 winning percentage, and whom spent much of the post-Vince Carter era featuring Deron Williams as their best player and marketing focal point.

Under new head coach Kenny Atkinson, with many of the players acquired by new general managers Sean Marks, Brooklyn is playing an exciting style of up-tempo, care-free basketball that prioritizes chucking up three-pointers and playing no defense whatsoever. Seriously, no defense whatsoever – the Nets have held their opponents under 100 points just twice in 21 games, and have surrendered at least 110 points in 12 consecutive games.

But as grisly as the circumstances remain, a newfound ingredient has been introduced into Nets fandom: fun.
— Tyler Keating

Yes, it’s frustrating to watch the other team constantly put the ball in the basket, but it’s a lot better when you’re doing it a lot too. The Nets have reached 100 points in 14 of the 21 games they’ve played, which is a miracle considering their personnel.

Brooklyn’s roster is a calling card of D-League castoffs and overlooked college stars, with the injured Lin and loyal center Brook Lopez as the anchoring pick-and-roll combo. Anthony Bennett, Sean Kilpatrick, Caris LeVert, Isaiah Whitehead – they’re all here, and they’re all running up and down the court possessed.

Atkinson doesn’t have the record to show for it, but what he has done with this piecemeal roster is rather impressive. The night Lin went down, Brooklyn beat Detroit to improve to 2-3, with tight losses to two of the East’s better teams in Boston and Milwaukee. They have struggled after that injury, and while Lin likely wouldn’t have had much of the impact on the Nets’ leaky defense, the lack of his steadying hand may have cost them a couple of games.

Now, I’m not trying to paint the Nets as a good team. They’re awful, and their future, despite the exciting early results of hiring Marks and Atkinson, remains mostly awful. However, there is something to be said for being fun.

I’m not exactly revealing state secrets here, but watching sports is a recreational activity. For the most part, it’s supposed to be fun. It’s enjoyable to follow a team, watch their games and become invested in the both the games’ outcomes and the team’s outlook.

The Nets are fun to watch, likely for a neutral fan, but especially for a supporter. They play exciting games, which are often closer than they should be considering the disparity in talent, and they play with an underdog mentality that engenders fans’ support. The all-out effort of journeyman forward Trevor Booker is a beautiful thing, for example.

For a franchise that has sported one of the most vanilla brands in the NBA since moving to Brooklyn in 2012, they may have finally have developed a promising and relevant branding effort with the Twitter hashtag #BrooklynGrit, and it hasn’t come with the boring byproduct of glacial offensive play.

You should be proud of the team you support, right? Last year, I don’t think I could have said that. Brooklyn was led by a dead-end coach, overseen by an abysmal general manager, and played atrocious basketball without receiving anything for their troubles.

So, the last part of that sentence is still mostly true, but now the basketball is more inspired, and the franchise may have a vision. Baby steps.

And watching Nets games is fun. Had to double check that one, but it looks right.


Tyler Keating is associate sports editor for The Daily Campus, covering football and men’s basketball. He can be reached via email at tyler.keating@uconn.edu. He tweets @tylerskeating.