The Nets did everything they could to miss the playoffs, but the incompetence of the Eastern Conference proved to be too much to overcome. On the last day of the season Brooklyn squeaked into the postseason for the third year in a row, but it could only be a short visit. However, if not for Thaddeus Young, the Nets probably wouldn’t even be in the postseason and he is just happy to be in Brooklyn playing playoff basketball after spending the majority of the last two seasons with the tanktastic Sixers and Timberwolves.
"It was the perfect situation for me, especially with me being good friends with Billy, just knowing him and him drafting me in Philly," Young told me in the Nets locker room. "So it was a good situation, plus they had the right mix of players for me and I felt like I could be a great complementary piece to a lot of guys on this team."
In his final season at the helm in Philadelphia, current Nets general manager Billy King selected Young with the 13th pick of the 2007 draft and he entered the league as its second youngest player, only older than Kevin Durant. Despite playing just one college season at Georgia Tech, the 6-foot-8 swingman quickly grew comfortable in Philly, spending more than a half-decade in the City.
During his seven years Philly, Young played alongside such teammates as Andre Miller, Elton Brand, Jrue Holiday and Andre Iguodala on four playoff teams, including the 2011-12 Sixers who reached the Eastern Conference’s second round before they lost to Kevin Garnett and Boston in seven games. But he also played for five coaches, five general managers and two ownership groups.
Last season the team was stripped to the studs and tied an NBA record by losing 26 consecutive games en route to a 19-victory season. Young was the last remaining member from that 2011-12 squad and it was time for a change.
"The last couple of seasons just winning more games and being able to make the playoffs, but that’s about it," said Young, who doesn’t regret anything about his time spent in the City of Brotherly Love. "I had a great run there, did a lot of different things in the City and played my heart and soul out each and every night for the fans and organization."
An August trade to the Timberwolves brought him to a place where he thought he could win again. Flip Saunders sought to acquire Young because he felt he needed a veteran presence to replace the departed Kevin Love, and because he felt Young’s professionalism, athleticism and defensive activism would fit in well alongside youngsters such as Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, Gorgui Deng and Anthony Bennett.
However, the change of scenery wasn’t really all that much of a change at all. Young had to spend a significant portion of the season in Minnesota playing with an extremely young roster because of injuries to Nikola Pekovic, Ricky Rubio and Kevin Martin, and he also had to deal with the passing of his mother in November, who lost her battle with breast cancer at the age of 57.
After more than a week away from the team to grieve with his family, he came back and used basketball as an escape of sorts.
"Just try to play basketball. Focus on basketball," said Young. "Using that as one of the things to get away from all the stuff that’s happened. You know basketball has been the key to everything."
But he still couldn’t escape the losing. He notified Timberwolves management that he would be opting out of his contract during the off-season and on deadline day Minnesota sent him to Brooklyn so they could bring Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett home. When he arrived the Nets had a record of 21-31, but they went 17-12 the rest of the way and played much better basketball with him in the fold.
In 28 games with Brooklyn, Young averaged 13.8 points and 5.9 rebounds, while shooting 49.5 percent from the field and nailing 38 percent of his 3-point attempts. He has done a copious amount of adapting in his career and this was no different.
"I’m a basketball player. I don’t need really need a lot of plays to be ran for me or need the ball in my hands at all times to be efficient," said Young, who has been lauded for his versatility, work ethic and character. "So I think that’s why I kind of just fit in really well with the guys."
As someone who can stretch the defense at the forward position and also has the ability to get to the basket or post up, Young gives the Nets more floor spacing and athleticism, which they have severely lacked since moving across the Hudson. His transition to Brooklyn has been seamless, but he received a big assist from his wife, Shekinah.
"She’s the one that got everything acclimated. I kind of went straight on the road and she shipped everything here, got the car situated," said Young, who is living in New Jersey. "We were pretty much moved in within the first week. She wasn’t bullshitting."
This may already his eighth season in the league, but he is still quite young, having turned 26 last summer. It's not that farfetched to believe Young's best days as a player are ahead of him and Nets fans should hope that those days come in Brooklyn.
"I haven’t really even just thought about it," said Young, who can opt out of next season, the final one of his contract, and become an unrestricted free agent if he so chooses. "I’m just trying to play basketball and worry about it in the summer when it comes up."