Progress may be slow, but it's definitely worthwhile. After years of losing and a decision that could have permanently injured the franchise, the Brooklyn Nets have been climbing out of the abyss. Under Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson, they've been working to rebuild and have established a new culture in Brooklyn. With a crucial offseason coming up in the summer of 2019, this season will go a long way in determining the direction they go in the future.
Team Name: Brooklyn Nets
Last year's record: 28-54
Key losses: Jeremy Lin
Key additions: Ed Davis, Kenneth Faried, Shabazz Napier
1. What significant moves were made in the offseason?
It was a move six years in the making. After countless stops and starts and the trade that wasn’t, the Nets finally acquired Dwight Howard...
and then swiftly got him up outta here as part of a salary clearing move. The Nets were able to use the extra financial flexibility from that move to pick up Kenneth Faried from Denver and sign Ed Davis and Shabazz Napier as free agents from Portland. They also re-signed Joe Harris to a two-year, $16 million deal.
At the end of the day, the biggest moves were all about 2019 (and to a lesser degree, 2020). The Nets added four draft picks, one first and three seconds, and increased their cap space next summer to between $50 and $70 million, enough to add two max contracts. And by not adding long term deals —or extending their own free agents— the Nets now have one player, rookie Rodions Kurucs, with a contract extending beyond 2020.
2. What are the strengths of this team?
It pays to have solid youngsters that are improving by the day. Jarrett Allen saw his role increase throughout the season and averaged nine points and six rebounds a night in 24 minutes a game after the All-Star break. As Allen continues to develop on the inside, the Nets hope guard Caris LeVert will continue developing on the outside. The Nets have placed more trust in LeVert as he's gotten more reps, and he's rewarded them by becoming a better playmaker and a player teams around the league value very highly. How good can he become? I'll step aside and let Bryan Fonseca explain:
I can see 18 points, 5 assists and All-Defense in his future, which in effect would make him a borderline All-Star type. Does he make that jump this season? I don’t know, but he can, and if he does, the Nets are probably a playoff team, assuming D’Angelo Russell is mostly healthy and back to averaging 21 points and 6 assists as he was pre-injury last season. If LeVert convincingly becomes Brooklyn’s second-best player, these guys are in business.
Player development can carry you a long way, and it becomes especially important when you don't have high lottery picks to work with. Atkinson has helped turn “journeymen” Joe Harris and Spencer Dinwiddie into solid rotation players that have exceeded expectations.
3. What are the weaknesses of this team?
It doesn't seem like it, but the Nets aren't all that great at shooting three pointers. Brooklyn was 20th in three-point percentage despite being second in threes attempted per game (and per 100 possessions). A lot of that can be attributed to Allen Crabbe's inconsistent play throughout the season, but on the bright side he did shoot 41 percent from deep in the second half of the season. The Nets will need more consistent play from Crabbe if they hope to be competitive all year.
The Nets were the third worst rebounding team in the league last year and when you combine that with them being the worst at forcing turnovers, it's no surprise they were one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA last year. The additions of Davis and Faried should help to address those issues. Davis is counting on the team to be top 10 in rebounding this year and if they can be decent on the boards, it can save possessions and prevent teams from cashing in on second chance opportunities (Brooklyn allowed the third most second chance points per game in the league last year).
Will this be the year Brooklyn doesn't have an important player miss time due to injury? In Atkinson's first season as coach, Jeremy Lin missed half the season and we never got to see the Brook-Lin duo for an extended run. Last year, Lin missed 81 games while D'Angelo Russell missed a large chunk of the season due to a knee injury. We really haven't had a chance to see Atkinson implement his full vision yet and a healthy roster will give him a chance to really get to work.
4. What are the goals for this season?
As of this writing, Jimmy Butler is still a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Butler is trying to force his way out of town and has Brooklyn as a team he would be interested in joining. Butler is one of the best players in the league and him coming to Brooklyn would increase the Nets' chances of making the playoffs a great deal.
However, it's likely Butler will be elsewhere by the start of the season. Along with that, it may not even make that much sense to make a play for him, since as it stands right now, the Nets are on the outside looking in of the Eastern Conference playoff picture - with Butler, does that put them over the top? I’m not so sure.
Even still, this season is all about the development of their young players. The Nets will be counting on improvement from LeVert and Allen along with good health and some luck as they try to slip into the playoffs. It would be a nice reward for the young guys on the team as well as a welcome sign for free agents that might be interested in coming to Brooklyn.
5. Looking to the future
When the Nets made their big move to acquire Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce five years ago, they had dreams of high profile games deep into the spring and potential championship aspirations. Five years, only one playoff series win, and an infinite amount of jokes later, things are finally starting to look up in Brooklyn. The team has worked to develop some good young players and with a solid class of free agents hitting the market next summer, they'll have a chance to take their rebuild to another level.
One player who will determine this team’s future is D'Angelo Russell. This is Russell's second year running the show in Brooklyn and having another year under his belt will help his growth. One positive to take away from his debut year is that he cut down on his turnovers in the second half of the season. Russell had moments where he looked like an All Star caliber guard, but there were others where it looked as if he couldn't run the offense at an elite level. Brooklyn will need consistent, injury free play from Russell if they hope to sneak into the playoffs.
Of course the big thing to keep an eye on with D-Lo is his upcoming (restricted) free agency this summer. Russell is saying the right things and if he plays well, he'll cash in once the season ends. As the Nets look to determine what kind of team they'll be going forward, figuring out how Russell fits into their plans will be critical.