The brains behind the Brooklyn Nets were wrong to call this past season a ‘bridge year'.
This wasn't just one bad season. This past season was a nightmare waiting to happen because of impulsive decisions with no direct plan. No consistency in the past and no direction for the future.
That leads to a 21-61 team with no draft picks and a missing fan base (for now). And by the way, where exactly is this so called bridge leading to?
The Nets were solid the first two seasons in Brooklyn because they spent money. If that's the strategy, you can't just abandon it and expect things to go smooth. Impulsive spending almost always leads to failure in any circumstances of life.
Suddenly the unavoidable repeater's tax hit and Mikhail Prokhorov had no rings to show for the money he was losing, so the Nets decided they wanted to get under the tax threshold for the 2015-2016 season. They ignored analytics and put together a team composed of Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young; a declining Joe Johnson; a decent point guard in Jarrett Jack; and a bunch of players fighting to stay in the NBA. Expectations were high on unproven players like Bojan Bogdanovic.
The plan? Hopefully these guys string it together and play for the sake of their careers.
Sounds more like a miracle to me.
It's the offseason and everybody is so happy. That's all you initially heard. Deron Williams is gone, so the morale is lifted. Joe Johnson is so happy, everybody! He's going to have a bounce back year!
Remember Joe saying, "It ain't that bad here," when asked about Williams' departure?
Sure, it seemed right for both parties to part ways. Except there was one tiny problem with all of this: they didn't have a point guard!
Jarrett Jack was always solid as a backup point guard throughout his entire career. Not a starter. Nonetheless, Shane Larkin and Donald Sloan as the backups didn't make matters any better.
But hey they were happy. The locker room was cleansed of Deron's toxic attitude and the players were supposedly cohesive and excited for the season to start.
Mikhail Prokhorov even flew in from Russia and attended practice at Duke in late September to introduce Tibetan Martial Arts to the guys. It was one of the few times you actually saw Lionel Hollins having fun with his players. It was also one of the only two times we ever saw Lionel and Prokhorov together!
It's October and preseason is under way with an exhibition matchup against Fenerbahce Ulker, better known as Bojan Bogdanovic's former team from Turkey. The Nets aren't only getting beat, but they're getting swept under the carpet by a team from Turkey!
The thought, the hope, was ‘hey they can't be giving their all against a non-NBA team.'
Oh and the primary backup to Brook Lopez - Andrea Bargnani - was already sidelined with a calf injury.
Things were looking great for the season.
It's November and the Nets are already 0-7 with three losses by 10 points or more and one loss against the Los Angeles Lakers. Fans chanted "KOBE, KOBE, KOBE!" like it was New Jersey all over again.
Then to make matters worse, they finished with their lowest attendance since moving to Brooklyn with only 12,576 filled seats against the Milwaukee Bucks.
The thought: Holy crap this is going to be a really, really tough season.
Not to mention, the fears from last season of giving a potential top-10 pick to Atlanta might become a reality this season. Except it was worse. This pick was going to a division foe the Boston Celtics.
Bill Simmons, the celebrity spokesman for Celtics Nation, became a gnat in our ear. Tweeting in triumph after every Nets loss, then tweeting in pout following a Nets victory. If it was bad through seven games, imagine what it'd be like through 82 games!
It was easy to drown Celtics fans out but hard to drown out the issues arising with Lionel Hollins.
The Nets were much better with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson on the court, but Hollins wouldn't start him. It was said that upper management had to approach Hollins about starting the rookie out of Arizona. RHJ starting and developing, along with the stellar play of Lopez and Young, proved to be one of the few silver linings for the season.
But the issues continued and grew worse.
For a second time in the month, the Nets players either didn't hear (or) chose to ignore coach Hollins in a late game situation against the Golden State Warriors. Something very odd was happening with the players and coaches - a rift of some sort due to the constant miscommunication.
As the losing continued, things got even worse by the end of November. Players' fathers were becoming outspoken about the horrid coaching, namely Vasily Karasev, father to Sergey, who said the Nets were in ‘total disarray' and that his son is ‘discussing trade scenarios' out of Brooklyn. At least one other player's father was reportedly seething.
The thought: It's only the first month of the season but... WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?
At this point, the Nets were in third-to-last place in the NBA. The season was still young, but the Nets seemed more doomed than ever.
Hollins got one last chance to redeem himself in December when the Nets had 10 games at home.
It's December and the Nets are 4-13 to start and here I was on a Sunday afternoon en route to cover a Nets-Warriors game at the Barclays Center. As I walked up the stairs and onto the Long Island Railroad platform, I heard a familiar voice. It was the voice of Kristaps Porzingis, the New York Knicks newest hero, voicing over a message to passengers asking them to ‘stay courteous' and that he'll ‘see you at the Garden'.
I pictured him winking and smiling as he said it, another reminder that the Nets don't have a draft pick this upcoming June, have to swap in 2017 and give up another one in 2008.
This was two days after the Knicks destroyed the Nets at the Garden. The Knicks were playing well at the time with hopes at a playoff race.
Not only did it sting, but it also signified the end of any real rivalry, not to mention a sad end to the Brooklyn's relevancy in New York. It was the only nationally televised game for the Nets this season and they stunk up a storm from start to finish.
And then to make matters worse, Hollis-Jefferson hurt his ankle at a practice following the Knicks game, and left Barclays Center on crutches the following game.
The thought: What's next? Hollis-Jefferson was one of the few bright spots on the ugly season and now this happens...
And of course, the bad fortune continued with the Nets and Hollins...
Everybody knew Hollins was dealt a bad hand at the start of the season, but it was clear through two months that Hollins and the Nets was simply not a good match.
He knew the end was near. His last hope was December, but the Nets finished with a disappointing 5-10 record, and a THIRD miscommunication occurred between the coach and players that cost the Nets another close game.
To put the icing on the cake, Hollins benched Bojan Bogdanovic in a tight game against the Mavericks - a game in which Bogdanovic was 5-of-5 from deep. When asked about it, Hollins angrily answered, "Well, I could just say coach's decision, which it was. And I'll just leave it at that."
He abruptly walked off the podium.
"When it's over, somebody calls me up and says you're not here anymore, I pack my sh*t up & I go home," Hollins said the first week of December.
The writing was on the wall.
It's January and the Nets are 9-23 and quickly becoming the laughing stock of the NBA. Things were bad enough and they only got worse in the first game of the month.
The Nets were in a tight battle at Boston, the franchise that swiped Brooklyn's three first-round picks -- and to this day -- own the defining moment in Brooklyn Nets' short history.
The Nets were winning and Brook Lopez was dominating when Jarred Sullinger practically tackles him to the ground. Jarrett Jack, playing leader role, was the only Net to stick up for Brook and instantly found himself in a scuffle against four other Celtics.
Despite the minimal stakes on the line, this game became personal and you started pulling more for Jack and the Nets to snag the W in Boston. The game continues, and the next thing you know, Jack is sprawled out on the floor.
Non-contact injury to his knee.
The thought: ACL tear.
The reality: ACL tear.
Jack was out for the remainder of the season. He probably won't be playing in a Nets uniform again. And to add insult to injury, it happened on the Celtics home court.
The season started with uncertainty at the point guard position. Jack, however, played well in the starters role but the horrid bench was the difference maker. I was especially harsh on Jarrett, but after that game, I learned just how important he was to this team despite the poor record.
This was officially rock bottom.
The week continued and the losses piled on. The Nets lost four consecutive games and they had a record of 10-27 with Mikhail Prokhorov headed to the United States.
Like I said, the writing was on the wall .... and it was in Russian!
The Nets, who had been through three different coaches prior to Hollins, were ready to make another change at the coaching position... and general manager position (!) A fan who had never attended a Nets game before said after her foray into Barclays, "The players are united in only one thing: their hatred of the coach."
Everything was changing.
On January 11, the Nets announced the firing of Lionel Hollins and the "re-assignment" of Billy King until they could find another GM. It would become a long and tedious process, but the Nets were in the right direction by starting over.
Billy King will forever be notorious in Brooklyn for his many opportunistic trades. During his tenure, he traded picks and prospects that turned into Derrick Favors, Draymond Green, Devin Harris, Anthony Morrow, Enes Kanter, Gorgui Dieng, Damian Lillard, James Young, Kelly Oubre Jr., and more still to be determined.
The Boston trade will forever haunt Billy King and the Nets, but in the grand scheme of things, it was just one mistake amongst many more.
It wasn't the impulsive trades that led to King's firing, but rather his decision to hire Hollins. Ownership which had signed on to the King strategy could forgive the trades, but not the Hollins hiring. It was on him. Of course, Prokhorov never met Hollins before he was hired. He trusted Billy to make the right decision and he failed.
There was a sense of relief with Hollins gone and the players weren't shy to express their feelings. Two days later, Thaddeus Young slammed Hollins without using his name.
And so, things were changing and assistant coach Tony Brown took over in Hollins' place. He finished the month of January with a 2-9 record, the Nets seemingly happy and free but still losing games.
The thought: What did it matter anyway? The season was lost. New coach next year.
It's February and the Trade Deadline is approaching and the Nets still don't have GM. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson's return is still uncertain and the Nets continue to lose games. At the very least of it all, Chris McCullough, Brooklyn's first-round pick, made his debut on February 9th after being injured for 393 days due to an ACL tear he suffered during his freshman year at Syracuse.
On the front lines, King's Assistant GM, Frank Zanin, was supposedly taking calls but so was King despite being "re-assigned".
It was time to get a GM and Bryan Colangelo was the front-runner throughout the month of meetings, but reports began surfacing that Brooklyn had offered Sean Marks - of the San Antonio tree and dark horse in the GM race -- a deal to take over the vacant GM spot
He didn't accept or did he? Did the Nets low-ball him or didn't they?
The following day, the Nets unveiled their luxurious brand-spanking-new practice facility in Industry City, Brooklyn. All the eyes were on the view of the New York City skyline and top-class amenities inside the building. But all ears were listening for word about the alleged offer to Sean Marks.
When asked about Sean Marks, Prokhorov said: "I have never heard this name before." He was joking. As we said then, it was "less than artful." We were so kind.
He was hired the next day.
Marks preached how he would like to establish a new culture and find ways other than the draft to find talent, citing overseas and the D-League as two possible sources of doing so.
He didn't make any moves on the Trade Deadline, but he waived Andrea Bargnani one day into his tenure.
The thought: score one for Marks.
After one week of sitting in the GM chair, Marks waived Nets favorite Joe Johnson, who had played with the team for three and a half seasons
It was tough for the Nets to lose a professional like Joe, but ironically like D-Will's situation, the choice was appropriate for both parties.
Marks told WFAN, "I think he's deserved the right to [play on a playoff team if that's what he wants]." It may not seem like much, but this is important when setting a culture. Marks recognized that Joe wanted out and worked with his agent to make it work for both sides. It won't be a deal breaker, but it sets a precedent of how Marks and the Brooklyn Nets will operate going forward. Professionally.
Following that move, Marks immediately signed Sean Kilpatrick -- the D-League's leading scorer -- to a 10-day contract and later a multi-year deal. In 23 games with the team, Kilpatrick averaged 14 points on 47 percent shooting and 36.6 percent from three-point.
The thought: Score another one for Marks.
It's March and things aren't as depressing despite the constant losing. The Sean Marks era is officially under way and the attitude is starting to change. Winning wasn't the main concern.
It was about fixing this mess.
The Nets were one of the NBA's best three-point shooting teams despite being the third-worst under Hollins. Tony Brown is developing guys and Sean Kilpatrick is making Sean Marks look like a very smart man.
Marks then hired his Assistant GM, Trajan Langdon, formerly of San Antonio as well.
More Spurs' personnel. A young lawyer from the Spurs front office is recruited to be the Nets coordinator of strategic planning. Planning? What?
Shortly after, on March 22, Rondae made his return after missing 50 games, about 20 more than had been projected. At least we had RHJ to look forward to - a fun and exuberant guy to watch grow.
The Nets started caring less about the lost pick and concentrated more on evaluating talent. Marks would have guys rest so he can see who's worth bringing back and who's not. Lopez and Young sit down. Bogdanovic sits some, too.
This was a new phase, one that looked like a legitimate rebuilding team with a much-needed D-League team forming in Long Island.
The thought: The end is near.
It's the night of April 13 and the Nets finish with a 21-61 record. After resting Lopez and Young, the Nets ended the season on a 10-game losing streak. Appropriate, but essentially meaningless since it was all about evaluating talent
Everything predicted before the season came true. Remember the Nets were called "putrid", "pocket lint"? Yeah...
To make matters worse, the Nets finished with the third-worst record in the league, giving Boston the third-best odds at nabbing the No. 1 pick.
Furthermore, the Clippers finished in sixth place, which means the Nets, and Clippers swap second round picks in June. If the Clippers finished top-5, the Nets would've received the 33rd pick in the Draft opposed to the 55th.
The thought: was there anything good about this season?
In Plato's The Republic Socrates, an ancient Greek philosopher, discusses "The Good" in life and compares it to the sun because it's practically impossible to see. That's almost how it felt to follow the Nets this year. So many things went wrong and it was hard to find any good in all of this.
It was THAT bad there, Joe. The not-so-subtle mantra for the Brooklyn Nets this season.
Still, we like to keep things positive around here and there were definitely some things to be happy about.
We can start with the stellar play from the duo of Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young whom proved themselves to be one of the best frontcourt duo's in the NBA.
Second, we have to be extremely satisfied with the Draft Day acquisition of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. The Nets traded Mason Plumlee to get him and while Plumlee is a solid player in Portland's system, the Nets seemed to have found a defensive gem with the potential to develop an offensive game. King had his faults, but he was usually good at drafting.
Of course, Chris McCullough fits into this category as well. The kid hadn't played in over a year after tearing his ACL and came in late in the season and improved with every game. He'll finally have a full offseason to participate in summer league, training camp and preseason at full health.
And last but certainly not least, the Nets appear to be doing things right this time around. They're doing things a different way, a Spurs way... we hope. There's a culture being established in what looks like a long process for Marks and co.
They'll have to make their first major move early this summer when they hire a coach. Since moving to Brooklyn, the Nets have seen three different head coaches come and go in four seasons. It's one of the many tasks management has in store, including hiring other personnel for both the Brooklyn Nets and the Long Island Nets.
And thus, we're finally exiting the bridge after a long and exhausting trip. We've paid the toll and it was hefty. Let's hope they have directions to where they're headed next.
The thought: this will be the most crucial offseason in franchise history.