“Everyone thinks we’ll suck, so I feel like we don’t have a lot of pressure,” Jeremy Lin said in a media exchange with Chinese fans. “I still feel like we can make the playoffs. I know everyone will laugh, but that’s no problem."
Two powerful lines indeed and something that Lin has stated more than once. The Nets know the expectations are low. After all, they’re coming off a 20-win season. Of course expectations are low. This isn't the Lakers or the Knicks or the Celtics where fans are impatient bordering on delusional.
But can this low pressure environment benefit them?
Let’s a take a quick trip down memory lane…
In years past – specifically the first three years in Brooklyn – pressure was through the roof.
YEAR 1: The bright and shiny Barclays Center opened and the Nets celebrated with flashy signings of Deron Williams and Joe Johnson. They were feted at Brooklyn Hall with their families. A few hundred local fans tossed black-and-white balloons. “Brooklyn’s backcourt” the Nets deemed their very expensive duo. Trademarked the phrase even! Expectations were high and rightfully so. They had a solid roster that season but fell short in the first round of the playoffs against a depleted Bulls team. The pressure of New York showed their biggest star was vulnerable and needless to say, they fell short of the high expectations in the first year.
YEAR 2: The Nets make the infamous trade for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett but they didn’t move any starters in the deal. The starting lineup was Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Brook Lopez. They were backed up with guys like Andrei Kirilenko, Andray Blatche, Shaun Livingston and Mason Plumlee. Jason Kidd was the new head coach. Sports Illustrated put them on the front cover and titled it, “WHO WANTS A PIECE OF THEM?”
LeBron James did. That's who! In the second round it was a wrap in five games. Most expensive team in NBA history —more than $200 million in salary and luxury taxes— fell way short of hefty expectations, to say the least. There was a spilled water bottle and Lawrence Frank's daily reports. Yeah, Brook Lopez got hurt in December but the Nets played well after his departure.
YEAR 3: Hopes if not expectations were high because time was running out. Pierce was already gone, Garnett had one foot out the door and Williams just couldn’t find “it” in Brooklyn… or anywhere else. Lionel Hollis was coach. 'Nufff said. The Nets were going to win or lose with the original core: Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez with a little late help from Thaddeus Young and Jarrett Jack. It never happened. The Nets squeaked into the playoffs in the last game of the season with a 38-44 record. They brought the first round series to six games against a deceivingly weak first seeded Atlanta Hawks. D-Will bracketed a heroic 35 point performance with games of five and three.
And you know the rest of the story since then. Point is, pressure has never been a good thing for Brooklyn.
The whole ‘Brooklyn’s backcourt’ was a miserable failure. Williams and Johnson didn’t even get along well. Quick fixes turned into train wrecks. The pressure to be good now in New York, New York pushed ownership and management into several disastrous moves.
Back to present day…
The Nets undoubtedly have a better roster this season than last. They lost their best player in Lopez but also gained four players that will likely start this year with the additions of D’Angelo Russell, DeMarre Carroll, Allen Crabbe and Timofey Mozgov.
The guys that played heavy minutes last year will be coming off the bench – some capable – like Caris LeVert, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Trevor Booker, Sean Kilpatrick, Spencer Dinwiddie and Isaiah Whitehead. Less pressure with more experience for that bunch.
Potentially the biggest difference this year is they should have a healthy Jeremy Lin, who missed most of last year with a hamstring injury. The Nets were 11-25 in games with him and 9-37 without him.
Lin is calling playoffs. He, Isaiah Whitehead and Crabbe all said they liked the offseason acquisitions. Players are hungry and the coaching staff is hungry, says Russell. They all have a chip on their shoulder, especially Brooklyn’s new backcourt. Both Lin and Russell have something to prove.
Russell hasn’t predicted a playoff run, but he has subtly indicated he and his teammates are working on something special.
“We try not to talk about it. We try not to talk about the future in Brooklyn,” he told Adrian Wojnarowski. “We’re excited, we’ll work hard and see where it goes. Then, we can reminisce on it when it happens.”
No pressure there. Let the guys play ball and see what happens. If you expect too much, you’ll end up disappointed like most Nets fans the first three years in Brooklyn, and then the following two.
Of course, if things work out, reminiscing, as D-Lo puts it, can be fun.