So that happened. Sean Marks has masterminded the single most impressive off-season of Nets franchise history while maintaining the culture (there's that word, again) painstakingly built in the last three years, or so. For those of you who are comic book fans (specifically, Batman), you will hopefully appreciate the analogy I will draw. At some point, the stress of being Batman drove Bruce Wayne to the edge. He lost his focus on the line between right and wrong, pushed away the whole of his considerable assortment of Gotham City-based allies and drove himself to the point where he was so vulnerable, Bane literally broke his back. Yes, we could trace the thread back to the 2009-10 infamous 12-70 debacle, but I suggest it is more informative to look at the 2016-2017 team that finished 20-62.
I believe that was the season that broke the back of "Nets-dom," if you will. We were realizing the full and near fatal impact of the Billy King implosion. We were once again last in the standings. What hurt many of us was the loss of the one player who had stood tall (literally) while all about was a swirl of chaos; the one player who we knew was our guy and who loved being a Net as much as we loved his being a Net, Brook Lopez. After nine seasons of hearing about his shortcomings and potential trades, seemingly every year, Brook and his enthusiasm for Star Wars, penchant for abusing mascots and love of Comic-con were all shipped to Los Angeles, having finally been vanquished by the dreaded trade rumor mill. The final straw, however, must be seen as Jeremy Lin's bold prediction that the 2017-18 Nets would be a playoff team. Hmm.
Not only did that team not bear any fruit ripe for the picking, Lin was injured for so much of it that we forgot how cool his haircut was. Yet, like the phoenix rising from the ashes (or baby dragons of Dany out of the fire), the Nets have arisen from the near-dead. The broken back that incapacitated this organization has been healed and now that backbone is stronger than ever. Brooklyn has come out of its long ordeal with a solid foundation and core of players that has translated into the latest, and greatest, basketball buzzword, "culture." Brooklyn Nets basketball stands for family, cohesion and development. These are three diverse, but not divergent, ideals that serve to attract the elite talent of the NBA.
No, simply attracting free agents was not the goal of the organization. It was, is and will be for the foreseeable future to win basketball games; enough to claim an NBA championship. Just as we could not hold onto Brook Lopez, we could not retain D'Angelo Russell, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Ed Davis, Jared Dudley or any of the other fan favorites and good guys who have worn a Nets jersey. As unsettling as this leap into contention has been, we cannot turn back to the familiar comforts of not succeeding. We are now contenders, without the hype of an owner looking for instant gratification or a fan base wanting a good player to be retained in the stead of a great player. In many ways, this may be the hardest transition for all of us to make.
Though we may find it difficult to say goodbye to some of those who have built and exemplified Brooklyn Nets culture, still we must do so. Brooklyn Nets basketball must ultimately be about winning, not serving as a holding area for every player who commands our support. I ask every fan of Brooklyn Nets basketball, "Do you cheer for the back of the uniform, or the front of the uniform?"
Let's go, Nets!