On Wednesday afternoon during his Media Week presser, Tyler Johnson summarized the vibe of this accelerated offseason perfectly: “We don’t know how things are going to shake out.”
Nothing epitomizes that statement more than Brooklyn’s boisterous center platoon, still with minutes and roles to divvy up and not much time to spare. Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the Nets boast two starting caliber centers. The allocation of front-court minutes will be a key storyline to look out for as we enter the preseason.
The story of Brooklyn’s ever-changing look at center began back in the 2018-2019 season, when a (then) 20-year-old sophomore center, Jarrett Allen, painted his case as a starting-quality five with superstar-swatting brush-strokes, pinning 1.5 shots per game to the glass while tossing up a cool 11-point, 8.5-rebound stat-line. Allen continued to hold that starting gig through opening day 2019-2020 and beyond, all the way up until just after the 2020 All-Star break––right as the first of many seismic events shook the Brooklyn Nets snowglobe into a wild blizzard of personnel changes.
Let’s skip ahead to March 7th when the Nets and their coach of three-plus years, Kenny Atkinson, agreed to part ways. On The Athletic’s podcast with David Aldridge this week, Ian Eagle mentioned that the Nets decision to move on from Atkinson could be chalked up to a “vibe being felt” by the new owner for change. Eagle continued, saying that new owners “evaluate everything” and “ultimately, make the call.”
Shortly after promoting interim head coach Jacque Vaughn (who is now the Nets’ defensive assistant coach), Brooklyn made two changes to its starting rotation, swapping out Taurean Prince for Wilson Chandler, but more importantly, Jarrett Allen for DeAndre Jordan.
Allen commented on that decision on Wednesday––a decision that resulted in him losing his starting spot––stating, “I’ll be honest, I kinda saw it coming. There was a lot going on at that point. I’m not holding a grudge against anything. It just happened. It was best for the team.”
Jordan only held on to that starting spot for two more games before the season was postponed due to the Coronavirus pandemic. And then Jordan unfortunately contracted COVID-19 on June 30th, right before the Nets left for the Orlando bubble at Walt Disney World. Jordan revealed on Wednesday that he “was doing all of the protocol needed to try and make it to the bubble, but didn’t have a negative test in time” to join his squad as they surprised pundits aplenty while surging to a 5-3 record in the seeding games. Jordan called missing that opportunity and the situation itself “frustrating.”
Of course, it was Allen who was a major catalyst to Brooklyn’s bubble-licious performance. The Fro eclipsed 15 points and 10 rebounds in three of his five seeding games, and flashed new layers of productivity during a solid showing in the first-round series versus the Toronto Raptors. Allen cited his early-March demotion when discussing what coerced that strong bubble stretch, proclaiming he “wanted to show I could be a starter again (and) that I was capable of playing against playoff-level teams, against any competition.”
Losing his starting job lit a fire under him.
Allen continued, arguing that his jump in productivity––especially as a playmaker––could be attributed to “getting the ball more.” Allen continued, “I was flashing to the ball more, presenting myself. Trying to help when my teammates were stuck.”
Here’s a clip of Allen flashing that benevolent skillset after the Raptors trap Garrett Temple, flipping a kickout pass to Joe Harris off the short-roll the split-second Toronto converged middle. I could count the number of times on one hand that Mr. Joseph Buckets was that wide-open last season.
And now, here we are. 5 months away from the faint memory that was the NBA bubble, and with a new head coach in place, a healthy Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving lurking in the wings, and a training camp roster stuffed 20 deep... and the same question still remains: Who the heck is starting at center for these Brooklyn Nets?!?
Some healthy competition is to be expected between Jordan, Allen, sophomore center Nicolas Claxton, and recent free agency addition, Jeff Green, who Steve Nash himself touted as Brooklyn’s “stretch five” on Tuesday. But don’t expect that atmosphere to affect the chemistry between teammates.
DeAndre Jordan, who’s been a mentor to Big Jay, gloated about Allen’s strong bubble performance.
“Seeing JA down there, being able to anchor the defense and talk as much as he did... watching those games, and talking him throughout the bubble. I thought it was awesome. He really took on that role. He was pretty much going to be the only big man down there that we had... He took it like a pro. I’m happy that he did and he was successful, and I’m excited to see what affect that has on this season.”
Allen was similarly cheery about his fellow Brooklyn brethren. “In all honesty, we’re building camaraderie. Everybody comes in with a smile on their faces. Everyone knows we’re coming in ready to work.” The Fro promised to “play with that same aggressiveness” that he had in the bubble, channeling “that same mentality even if I don’t have that big of a role.”
He’s willing to sacrifice for his teammates and bring it every day.
Maintaining civility amid fierce competition for crucial minutes during a championship season is no easy task, especially within a league that downright encourages tidal waves of player movement from city-to-city, state-to-state. But the Nets, they’re clearly letting the little things fall into place, allowing fate to take its course. Though we don’t have clarity on how Brooklyn’s front-court may look come opening day against the Golden State Warriors just yet, one thing is very clear: Competition for playing time will do anything but inhibit the budding bonds between teammates––in fact, it may bring out the best from Brooklyn’s talented cast of hoopers.
It could spark a sense of togetherness and the greatest level of achievement.
- Nets’ Allen at crossroads as training camp begins - Greg Logan - Newsday
- Jarrett Allen aware of his precarious Nets position - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- DeAndre Jordan: ‘Strange’ practices keeping Nets safe - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- The NBA is trying to create bubbles without ‘The Bubble’ and Nets’ DeAndre Jordan understands why - Kristian Winfield - New York Daily News
- Nets’ DeAndre Jordan impressed by how Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving have looked so far - SNY
- DeAndre Jordan still cautious with day-to-day routine after recovering from COVID-19 - Nick Friar - USA Today
- DeAndre Jordan: Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving look like their normal selves - Nick Friar - USA Today
- DeAndre Jordan on pressure (Video) - YES Network
- Jarrett Allen on mentality (Video) - YES Network
- BROOKLYN NETS MEDIA WEEK: JARRETT ALLEN OPEN TO WHAT’S NEXT - Tom Dowd - Brooklyn Nets