The last appearance is always the one that stays with you. The Brooklyn Nets had a surprisingly good season, but a 22-point demolition at the hands of the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 5 will leave a sour taste in the mouths of Nets fans ... for the time being. The defeat was an ugly end to a good season, but what happens next will have long term ramifications for the franchise.
When Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson joined the organization, the franchise was the butt of jokes around the league and didn’t have much talent to write home about outside of Brook Lopez. Since then, they’ve been gradually restocking the cupboard and have the franchise in good position as we enter the offseason. With a good young roster, two first round draft picks, not to mention increased respect across the league, the Nets are in position to climb in the standings next year and hopefully for a while.
As we look ahead to the future, it's important to take a look back in the not too distant past. Without looking it up, can you guess who said this?
Any ideas? Still nothing? Alright, for those who don't remember, former Nets General Manager Billy King said that at the end of the team's first season in Brooklyn following their first round loss to the Chicago Bulls in 2013. Of course, we know what happened next...
Now there are a lot of obvious differences between the two situations. For starters, the organization is a lot more stable now then it was in the Spring of 2013. When they first moved in to Brooklyn, the franchise was trying to hit home runs every time they came to bat and that led them to making moves that didn't pay off and ignoring easy paths of development that were available to them.
The constant desire to make a splash led them to make a franchise-altering risk that only resulted in frustration and disappointment. Under the current administration, the team has done a better job of cultivating talent and utilizing avenues of improvement available to them.
There's greater focus on the developmental league now as they have made the Long Island Nets a solid training ground for young prospects and talents that need more seasoning in order to permanently land in the Association. And innovation is celebrated.
Here’s just two examples. The Nets hire an Austrian shooting coach who in between monthly visits to Brooklyn sends players helpful customized videos. “Tele-coaching” becomes a thing. Instead of relying on trainers with only basketball experience, the Nets hire performance experts with experience in Australian rules football, the NFL, rugby and alpine skiing ... and training Navy SEALS!
“What I love, what we built there is a global staff. It’s world sport,” said Kenny Atkinson at Friday’s press conference. “It’s understanding, obviously, the NBA but also getting great ideas from people that weren’t in the NBA their whole lives. We’ve really got great diversity there. Our players have embraced it. I think the Old School was is for a guy who’s been in the NBA for 20 years to be in that department.”
Then, there’s the simple stability in the head coaching seat, the Nets have managed to build a sense of consistency for players and fans alike. Compare that to the 10 years prior to Atkinson was hired, when the Nets had seven head coaches.
If there's a similarity between now and '13, it's that the offseason will have long term ramifications on how they do business. Back then, the Nets had resources to work with after a good season and blew it by trying to chase a title not with elite players, but with nostalgia.
This time, the strategy figures to be a bit different. The organization hasn’t rushed into moves since 2016 and don’t figure to make a splash for the sake of making a splash. They'll make serious runs at top tier free agents, but if they strike out, they probably won't devote a large amount of resources to a player that won't push them up a level in the Eastern Conference hierarchy. They also have the benefit of being a stable big market club, which isn’t something we can say for some of their peers. As Nekias Duncan explains:
While the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers have been linked to many of the bigger name free agents set to hit the market this summer, the Nets will also be armed with plenty of cash and the ability to bring a player commanding a max contract on board. As of now, they’re the most stable organization of the three, boast a deep roster with talented young guys, and have a head coach that not only has a modern philosophy, but also knows how to connect with players on a personal level. Time will tell if they can land an elite player, or an All-Star, or a collection of guys to round out their roster.
The first question they’ll have to address is how much they will invest in D’Angelo Russell. A rough playoff debut shouldn’t overshadow what was a great season for the 23 year old All Star. There are holes in DLo's game that need to be filled, but Russell has shown a willingness to improve and as a young player that's taken to the city and franchise since moving here in 2017, it's a great sign going forward. There will be questions as to whether Russell will get offered a maximum contract either by the Nets or another team in free agency, so we'll have to keep a close eye on how that situation develops. A core of Russell, Caris Levert, Jarrett Allen and [insert free agent star here] is pretty damn good and will have the Nets in a good space for years to come.
The Brooklyn Nets have done a great job of pulling themselves out of the hole they dug for themselves what now seems like many years ago. They've cultivated an energetic, devoted (and organic) fanbase that will ride with them no matter what. They've also gotten to the point where they're an example of how to build a franchise the right way. As the team closes the chapter on the first part of their rebirth, what they do next will determine if their story will be a thriller or horror.
- Nets believe top-tier free agent will want to join team - Greg Logan - Newsday