I’m a Brooklyn Nets fan. Yes, those exist.
It’s a weird feeling rooting for a laughing stock of a team. As a young sports fan, I looked on those poor Astros and Browns fans and thought to myself, “At least I’ll never have to be them.”
But for the last few years, I’ve found myself in that very position. It’s a strange existence. When a team is so laughably terrible, it ceases to be a professional sports team and instead becomes more of a meme than anything else. I’m not sure if people are aware that the Nets have even been playing basketball for the last three seasons.
Especially considering that I only really got into the NBA four years ago, most of my time as an NBA fan has been spent as a spectator when games matter most. Regular seasons are long and painful, playoffs are spent rooting against teams rather than rooting for mine. Apart from their first-round victory over the Raptors in 2014, the Nets have been, well, not very good.
That changes this year, when the Brooklyn Nets make the playoffs once again.
Brooklyn won 20 games last year, the fewest in the NBA. But that doesn’t mean they weren’t a fun team to watch. Sadly, entertainment value (boosted by the best commentary team in the league) doesn’t get factored into postseason seeding, but the team’s young core provided plenty of glimpses of what this team could one day be.
I’ve fully bought into the Jarrett Allen hype train—you should too. As a rookie last year, Allen’s improvement from beginning to end of the season was astounding. In the offseason, he bulked up, worked hard on rebounding and even started adding a three-point shot to his arsenal. I mean, he’s 20 years old and he’s already humiliating Blake Griffin at the rim.
— NBA (@NBA) October 17, 2018
Head coach Kenny Atkinson is one of the most undervalued coaching minds in the NBA, turning fringe role players like Spencer Dinwiddie and Joe Harris into bona fide starters. Caris LeVert and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson are young players with high ceilings. Offseason acquisitions Kenneth Faried and (noted UConn alum) Shabazz Napier should nicely fill some of the issues of last year’s team, namely rebounding and bench scoring.
Ultimately, this season will depend largely on the play of D’Angelo Russell. Look, I’m as big of a Dinwiddie believer as you’re going to find, but Russell was brought in to be a franchise player. The Nets were a better team with D-Lo on the bench last year.
Russell is a tough player to figure out. He has the makings of a star point guard: size, vision, natural scoring ability. But he plays as if he’s trapped for eternity in Rookieville. He turns the ball over too frequently, takes poor shots, and simply doesn’t facilitate offense on a consistent basis. It’s fine if Russell never develops into a plus-defender, but he has to do more than just score.
The infamous 2013 trade with the Celtics continues to hang over the franchise, and even though Brooklyn has finally emerged from its draft-pick-grasps, the damage done will last for years longer.
But the past year-plus has been encouraging. The Nets have bought into the future, taking on veterans with ugly contracts in return for picks. The front office has found a quality head coach, has made some solid draft selections—namely Allen, the 22nd overall in 2017—and, if Jimmy Butler’s declared interest is any indication, has begun the process of restoring the franchise’s shattered image. And they’ve done it all while preserving lots of cap space for next summer.
Perhaps most compellingly of all, who’s really going to beat out the Nets in the East? The top five (Celtics, Raptors, 76ers, Bucks, Pacers) are all locks, but beyond that, it’s murky. The Nets are certainly talented enough to beat out the Hornets, probably the Pistons, and maybe even the Heat. The eight-seed in the East is wide-open, and I don’t see why Brooklyn couldn’t go a couple spots higher than that.
If all else fails, the Nets finally control their own pick, which feels like a gift from above. But expectations should be higher than another lottery pick. If the Nets wind up with the eight-seed, they certainly aren’t beating Boston. But this is the year that they finally put that disastrous trade in the past.