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NetsDaily 2022 Roundtable: A circle packed with different takes and optimism

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Brooklyn Nets v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images

It’s that time of year!

With a promising preseason in the past, a season with high hopes packed with plenty of storylines is upon us. The NetsDaily crew came together and assembled at their annual virtual roundtable. Happy basketball to all!

1. After a drama-packed offseason, who are you most excited to watch and why?

Net Income: Ben Simmons. Forget all the negatives, all the questions, all the Ben-bashing. When Ben Simmons is happy and healthy — and he sure looks like he is — he is an All-Star, an All-NBA selection, and a candidate for DPOY. We have seen some snippets of what he can do in the preseason. We have to believe that there’s more of that ... and that it will work not just with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving but with Yuta Watanabe and Nic Claxton as well.

Tom Lorenzo: I’m constantly excited to get to watch Kevin Durant play; however, this season I really want to see how Ben Simmons gels with this team. He’s a plus-plus-playmaker and a plus-plus-defender (at his best), so really hoping we get to see the best of him this year. IF he is “back” then I can legitimately see this team make a run at the finals.

Brian Fleurantin: I’m most excited to watch Kevin Durant. He’s been the epitome of excellence ever since he set foot in the NBA all those years ago, and getting to watch him in Brooklyn every game has been a wonderful experience. Watching him get to his spots, adapt in real time to the defenses thrown at him, and figure out ways to excel despite all the pressure is fantastic and something we shouldn’t take lightly. On a selfish note, I’m hoping Durant breaks out the one-legged three-pointer more often. He did it a few times last year and I got to watch Marine Johannes do it all summer long with the New York Liberty in the WNBA, so I’m hoping one-legged threes become a thing in Barclays Center all year round.

I think KD has a lot to prove as he continues to establish himself in that top, top, top tier in NBA history and I feel last year’s sweep will drive him and the team to be even more determined and focused to reenter the elite ranks. I think he’ll wind up having one of the best seasons of his career in 22-23.

Chris Milholen: It’s very tough to choose a single player but I’d have to go with Ben Simmons here (aka the obvious answer). I am very high on a healthy Simmons being integrated into this Nets team as time passes, and I do believe he is the key to the highest potential for Brooklyn. I also predict Simmons will be DPOY.

Matt Brooks: Might be a bit of a zag, but I think I’m going Kyrie Irving.

Look, I’m Mr. Narratives this season. I’m all in on guys looking for redemption for whatever reason. Maybe it’s just reflective of something going on in my life, of a stage of growth in my journey, I don’t know. This is just the year I want to see everyone, but especially the most maligned, succeed. Julius Randle, Russell Westbrook, James Harden. You name it. If they’ve underperformed or been turned on by the masses, I’m in on them. I want to watch them thrive.

The pendulum has swung so far on Kyrie that now, folks seem to be mitigating what he can do as a basketball player. “He hasn’t had a good playoff series since 2016” is a statement I’ve seen quite often online. I’m curious to see how he responds.

Alec Sturm: The team has preached that the drama from the offseason has actually brought the group closer together and raised the level of accountability on the Nets. And on that note, I am most excited to see the group as a whole now that they are (supposedly) available and focused on the on-court product, instead of whatever off-court drama or injury is taking center stage.

Ajayi Browne: I am most excited to watch Ben Simmons because the former LSU product is a player the Nets have never had before. He can defend at a high level and facilitate as a point guard if needed at a height of 6’10”. Simmons is a rare case when it comes to his shot selection too as he is very careful with it, shooting over 50% in every season he has played in. Just seeing him back on the court again after missing all of last year and seeing how he will complement this team is going to be fun to watch.

Lucas Kaplan: If this question had said “eager”, I would have gone with Ben Simmons, both a good player and, most importantly, new. But it says “excited”, so I am forced to go with Kyrie Irving. I could not possibly say anything that hasn’t been said about Irving, so I will repeat what might be the only universal truth about him: There have been very few more exciting players to watch. In ways both direct (endless YouTube highlights) and indirect (constantly compared to and discussed with all-time greats), that giggly, incredulous feeling of watching him play basketball will be his lasting legacy, even that is hard to believe right now. He’s also in a contract year, just having been swept by his former team! He’s trying on defense in the preseason!! Yeah, I’m excited.

Collin Helwig: This is tough, but I have to roll with Kyrie Irving on this one. Based on his contract situation, it makes all the sense in the world for Irving to come out and have his best season of his career thus far. Everything he’s said over the past few weeks has pointed in that direction, as has his play on the floor. It’s not too often you see multi-year All-Stars diving for loose balls and playing lock down defense during games that don’t matter, but we saw that from Uncle Drew in the preseason. If we’re getting that now, imagine what we’ll get when the regular season tips off. Aside from that, Irving is genuinely one of the more fun players to watch in our league. He’s an artist with the ball in his hand and it was tough to go nearly a full year without seeing that. I think if you’re a Nets fan or just a basketball fan in general you should be more than excited to see him for a full season slate.

2. Who is going to be Brooklyn’s “secret weapon” this season?

Net Income: I’m going with Cam Thomas. He has shown in both Summer League and preseason, a more refined game, not just posting assists, but showing some real skill in playmaking while slowly, maybe imperceivably, getting better on defense. Isiah Thomas didn’t compare him to Vinnie “the Microwave” Johnson, his reliable teammate on the Pistons championship teams, for nothing.

Tom Lorenzo: Moderna...I kid! I mean, we need a healthy Ben Simmons - but, that’s a bit out of “our hands,” right? His body is his body. What we really need as our secret weapon is an engaged Kyrie Irving. We know what we get with him when he’s on the court, but we don’t really know that he wants to be on the court. At least not as often as we’d like. If he plays 70 games this season - bruh, what a miracle that would be.

Brian Fleurantin: I’ll go with Nic Claxton. The bulk of the attention will rightfully go to the Big 3, but Clax’s ability to protect the rim, guard wings on switches, etc will be absolutely essential to the team’s plans. There isn’t a LaMarcus Aldridge standing in the way this time, so everything is set for Clax to make a huge leap.

Chris Milholen: I’m going with Royce O’Neale here. I was a huge fan of this acquisition by Sean Marks and the Nets during the offseason for several reasons. Like Kevin Durant once said — It’s a wings league. His 3-and-D skill set and veteran experience will pay volumes for Brooklyn, especially when adversity strikes. I do believe O’Neale has a serious chance of becoming a consistent starter for this Nets team.

Matt Brooks: Hmmmm, the niche basketball hipster in me wants to tip my fedora and pick Yuta Watanabe or something snobbish like that. Ben Simmons is probably the correct answer. I do think his play completely dictates the Nets ceiling.

But I’ll go with something a little different. I think the Nets schematic versatility could be the secret weapon that gets them over the top this season. I expect there to be a great deal of experimentation in the regular season—some good, some bad—and this should carve out a group that’s highly versed in a variety of different styles of play on both ends of the ball. And given how many different styles and philosophies there are in the NBA, that versatility could pay major dividends come postseason time.

Alec Sturm: Royce O’Neale, point blank. The acquisition went a bit under the radar considering it took place a minute after Kevin Durant trade request.

Ajayi Browne: Brooklyn’s “secret weapon” is going to be Joe Harris. Harris is still one of the league’s best sharpshooters and he’s going to remind us of that this season. The Nets had to settle in only having him for 14 games last year when he went down with an ankle injury. Having him out there now is going to play a key role in this offense reaching its true potential.

Lucas Kaplan: This question makes me think of Marcus Thornton that one year. Remember Marcus Thornton that one year? Nobody will ever be more of a secret weapon than that. Anyway, as much as I would love to say T.J. Warren, I can’t. Too much is unknown with him, so, therefore, too easy. He’s too secretive. I got Joe Harris, who has similar questions to Warren, but scaled down to the point I feel comfortable picking him. Harris was often discussed as a sunk cost this offseason, with Brooklyn potentially looking to salary dump him. Excuse me? He’s fine on defense, and one of the ten best shooters on the planet. Simmons will pass up a million shots he maybe should have taken and it won’t matter because they’ll lead to Harris threes. He’s already done that, with JJ Redick in Philadelphia. Joe Harris is Brooklyn’s secret weapon this year, but it shouldn’t be a secret.

Collin Helwig: Even after a few breakout games as a rookie and two fantastic summer league runs, I still feel like Cam Thomas is a name not talked about enough outside of Brooklyn. Creating your own shot is one of the most difficult things to do as an NBA player and Thomas already has that figured out. While most other prospects need to build up their game piece by piece, Thomas is starting off with a great chunk of a foundation via these scoring abilities. Now, he only needs to round out the complementary aspects of his game, those being passing and defending. This summer and preseason though, Thomas flashed some improvement as a facilitator and some hustle at the defensive end, which is honestly half of what’s required to be a great defender in the league today. Without a cemented backup point guard right now, there’s a path toward big minutes for Thomas and if he keeps building. I don’t think it’s too far-fetched to say we could see him average around fifteen and three off the bench this year.

3. What is your biggest concern with this Nets team?

Net Income: Chemistry, chemistry, chemistry. Can we all just get along? Chemistry will be obvious on the court, less so off-the-court. As a corollary when chemistry isn’t what it should be, is there a leader (or leaders) who can correct things on the fly?

Tom Lorenzo: The off-the-court shenanigans. I would love nothing more than for this team to just play basketball. My concern, though, is that we won’t be able to focus on basketball and instead will be talking about “back page” types of things far too often.

Brian Fleurantin: The biggest concern I have is health. If everyone’s at 100 percent, I think they’ll be in the top tier of the Eastern Conference. However, injuries have doomed the Nets for six years and running, so fingers crossed on that front. I trust that everyone will be healthy and available throughout the season.

Chris Milholen: It’s health. Simple as that. We all know that.

Matt Brooks: Health. Duh. Sorry, what a bland answer. But it’s health. It’s always been health with this team. I’m hoping someone else has a more fun response to this.

Alec Sturm: The coaching, honestly. Steve Nash is unproved as the lead man, especially without stellar assistants flanked around him. Igor Kokoskov’s stellar offensive mind should help with the creativity and implementation of the offensive sets, but Nash will still need to earn respect in that locker after Durant reportedly called for his job over the summer.

Ajayi Browne: Injuries are my biggest concern for the Nets. Since moving to Brooklyn in 2012, injuries had stood in the way of this franchise reaching the Conference Finals. These injuries have often plagued the stars on the Nets in particular. If Brooklyn can have a little luck this season and remain healthy, preferably before the playoffs, the league better watch out.

Lucas Kaplan: Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?”

What’re’ya, kidding me? How can you ask that with a straight face? My biggest concern is the elephant in the room shuffles an inch, or sneezes, perhaps, and the house collapses in on itself. Interpersonal conflict, injuries, a sinkhole beneath the Barclays Center opening up and swallowing everybody, I mean is anything really off the table with this franchise? Heading into the season, the vibes feel calm. Will that remain true for the amount of time Brooklyn needs? It hasn’t yet, for this iteration of the Nets . If they start, like, 5-9, how choppy are the waters going to be? Are you really sure, in your heart of hearts, the boat won’t capsize?

Collin Helwig: My biggest concern has to be spacing — and by extension coach Nash. Ben Simmons and Nic Claxton are the team’s best defenders in my opinion (sorry Royce). Naturally, you want those guys sharing the floor together for extensive runs. However, when you do that, you put two non-floor spacers on the court at once which is a cardinal sin in today’s NBA. Nash will have to bring his A-game this year in balancing the defense those two apply with, shooting, and size by way of his subsituations this season. I’m rooting for the guy, but I haven’t seen enough from him yet to believe he’s up for that task.

4. What are your expectations for Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and Ben Simmons?

Net Income: The million dollar question. Actually, it’s the $200 million question. That’s roughly how much Joe Tsai will pay out in salary and luxury taxes for those guys. First of all, it’s going to take some time. Simmons is coming back from a year off, for starters. And is the KD/Kyrie mix a closed circle? Can they let Ben be Ben? They are all unselfish which is a good thing, but we saw last year with James Harden that there are undercurrents that can stir the surface.

Tom Lorenzo: Here’s a nice little plug for a “best case/worst case” preview that I wrote last week. Basically, I’m going into the season hoping to be pleasantly surprised.

Brian Fleurantin: For Durant, top 5 in scoring, All Star starter, with an All NBA first team appearance and top 3 MVP finish. For Irving, top 10 in scoring, appearing in at least 70 games, being named an All Star reserve, and a legit All NBA candidate. For Simmons, an All Star appearance, All NBA defensive team, and appearing in 65+ games. I expect an excellent season out of Ben and I think NBA fans will come to appreciate what he brings to the table and worry less about what he can’t do.

Chris Milholen: Kevin Durant will be in the MVP conversation and I believe he’ll end up top 3 in voting if he can stay healthy. There’s something about him that has caught my eye since the start of training camp and what I've seen in the preseason. I don’t want to say he’s out to prove himself or the Nets but you can tell there’s a very determined and hungry Durant. Scroll down for my hot take on Kyrie Irving but I do expect him to have one of the best, if not the best, seasons of his NBA career. He seems very locked in and considering it’s a contract year for him, he’ll be putting on a lot of box office showcases across the “82 tour dates.” For Ben Simmons (yes, I did say earlier that I think he’ll be DPOY), I expect him to be comfortable with Brooklyn over time. I don’t see him shooting often but I see him being one of the best passers in the game with all the weapons around him and expect him to be the glue to Brooklyn’s success.

Matt Brooks: Kevin Durant will be in the running for MVP provided he stays healthy because he’s Kevin Durant and that’s what happens every year. Kyrie Irving makes an All-NBA team (maybe as high as… *shudders*…2nd team? Am I gonna regret that?) while playing balls to the absolute wall during a contract year. And Ben Simmons finds himself finally fitting into a situation that makes sense for him, averaging something like 12/9/9 while being a finalist in Defensive Player of the Year voting. I’d compare him to Brooklyn’s version of Lamar Odom for the championship Lakers.

Alec Sturm: I think Kevin Durant will be his usual superstar self, showing up to play each and every game when he is healthy and giving it his all when he is on the court. KD is poised to once again prove himself as a top-5 player in the NBA. I am also expecting a big year for Kyrie Irving with a much-discussed free agency period waiting for him next summer. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see him take the leap to superstar and even make some preliminary MVP noise and sneak into that conversation. As for Ben Simmons, I don’t see him reaching All-NBA (and probably not even All-Star) form just yet in his first year back, but I do expect his defensive play to have him in the DPOY conversation and for him to be a strong ancillary piece for the Nets.

Ajayi Browne: I expect Kevin Durant to go out there, have a career year and make it in the top three in MVP votes. It’s the perfect way to put this hectic offseason behind him and the Nets organization. Watching his former team win a championship should add some extra motivation to do just that too. As for Kyrie Irving, I expect him to play more than 60 games. It’s not a secret, the Nets need their premier point guard out there as much as possible during the regular season. Playoff positioning is vital in going far in the postseason so if Irving can be there for Brooklyn on this 82-game journey, the sky’s the limit. Last but not least, I expect Ben Simmons to make a case for Defensive Player of the Year. If that means the three-time All-Star has to take on the hardest defensive assignment night in and night out then so be it. This will wear down opposing teams’ stars while making them work on the other end when they’re dealing with Durant and Irving.

Lucas Kaplan: My expectation is that Irving easily outpaces the others, in terms of games played. I think the contract year motivation buzz is real, and he has been significantly injured since his first year in Brooklyn, other than a fairly unavoidable rolled ankle. Fair or not, I expect Simmons to more or less match the impact of his Philadelphia years without any of the All-Star buzz in a stacked Eastern Conference. But those two just have to do their (admittedly huge) parts. Because I expect Durant to will the team to wins down the stretch of close games, as he did last season, when the Nets held the Eastern Conference’s first seed prior to his January injury.

In terms of numbers:

Irving: 27/4/4 on 49/39/90

Durant: 28/7/5 50/40/89 (yep)

Simmons: 12/7/9 on 53/0/60

Collin Helwig: Barring any injuries, I expect to see a solid season from 7-Eleven. Durant and Irving are both exceptional basketball players — there’s no stopping them from doing what they do, meaning All-Star bids are on the way at the very least. I think Simmons will quickly turn from one of the game’s more disliked players into a beloved “prodigal son.” Everybody loves a comeback story, and say what you want about Ben’s shooting, but the other aspects of his game are breathtaking. For a whole year, he deprived the world of his lock down defense, flashy passes, and rim-wrecking habits in transition. With them back on display, the NBA community will be more appreciative than ever before. I think Simmons feeds off that and enjoys a solid season. If the Nets challenge for a top spot in the East he’ll finish top three for Defensive Player of the Year.

5. Give a hot take for the Nets and/or a player on this team.

Net Income: Kyrie Irving realizes that this year is it for him, for his legacy, and produces a spectacular season. He isn’t just on an expiring deal with the Nets, and isn’t just on an expiring deal with Nike. He has to recover from a reputation that is so tarnished that he has become the forgotten member of the new “Big Three.” He has never received a vote for MVP. This year changes that.

Tom Lorenzo: Oh boy. Let’s go with this: the Brooklyn Nets will finish in the top 10 this season in both Offensive Rating AND Defensive Rating.

Brian Fleurantin: Hot take for the Nets is they finish third in the Eastern Conference. Hot take for a player... I think Claxton will shoot at least 65 percent from the free throw line this season.

Chris Milholen: Kyrie Irving will play 60+ games for the Brooklyn Nets this season, barring injury.

Matt Brooks: This take would’ve been a whole heck of a lot more scorching a couple of days ago, but I expect Royce O’Neale to take the starting spot from Joe Harris even if Joe does manage to get healthy. For as much as Joe has improved defensively over the years, Royce just offers more in terms of physicality and positional versatility. Even on offense, Royce is more adaptable—he’s a better passer, he can run the occasional pick-and-roll to some success, and he’s a better finisher in traffic. He’s just a more well-rounded option.

Alec Sturm: Joe Harris is moved by the trade deadline. I think that his left foot and ankle will become too difficult for the Nets to continue to deal with and his hefty contract will be an important piece to make a big trade happen in order for the Nets to bring in the final piece necessary to be a championship team.

Ajayi Browne: Nic Claxton will win Most Improved Player. If he doesn’t step up this season and make that necessary leap, the Nets are going to struggle. There’s no more Jarrett Allen, Andre Drummond, Blake Griffin or LaMarcus Aldridge holding Claxton back from being the number one option for this team at the center position. It’s time for him to embrace it and take his game to the next level.

Lucas Kaplan: The meaning of “hot take” has been totally watered down. I hate when people answer questions like this with entirely plausible outcomes. I had some prior answers that didn’t feel hot enough to me, like, “Markieff Morris isn’t a Net come playoff time” or “The Nets trade for Myles Turner.” So, instead, I’ll go with, “Yuta Watanabe eventually becomes Brooklyn’s closing center.” I certainly wouldn’t bet on it, but the roadmap is there. Morris has to look completely washed, the free-throw concerns with Simmons and Claxton have to become overwhelming, and Watanabe has to keep hitting threes and prove he can muscle up to bigger players and be a paint presence, rather than simply fly around the court, which he already does.

Collin Helwig: As I said before, it’s all coming together for Irving to have the best season of his career. With that in mind, I think he’ll challenge for the NBA’s MVP award. ScoopB tweeted about this being one of Irving’s goals a few months ago, and again, Irving’s play in the preseason coincided with that. Unfortunately though, it’s my understanding that popularity influences who wins the MVP award, and Irving is short on that when it comes to the mainstream media. For that reason, I don’t think he’ll win, but MVP-caliber play will be on display and create some buzz around him and the award at the very least.

6. Final record prediction and postseason outcome.

Net Income: 53-29, one more win than the Nets record for wins in a season. That should be the least we can hope for with this roster. I am optimistic at this point about the final outcome. So I will say, I expect them to contend for a championship. Ah screw it. I expect them to win it all. There, I said it. Never said it before.

Tom Lorenzo: Again, I wrote about this last week but let’s go with 51-31 and 3rd in the East.

Brian Fleurantin: Record prediction: 52-30. Postseason outcome: NBA Champions

Chris Milholen: I know a lot of people have the Nets projected to win 50+ games this season but I’m going to go with 48 wins this season. Despite winning only 48 games, (and this might sound weird) but I expect Brooklyn to make the NBA Finals but come up short to the Los Angeles Clippers. I see the NBA Finals going 7 games.

Matt Brooks: 54 wins. A finals berth, and then a loss to the Clippers in, uhhhhh, 6? Because, man, have you seen how deep that LA roster is???? Luke Kennard, who led the league in three-point percentage last year, is like, what, the 10th man? Maybe 11 on the depth chart?? I mean, what on earth!

Alec Sturm: 52-30 and a loss in the conference finals.

Ajayi Browne: Regular season record - 58-24 — Postseason outcome: NBA Champions

Lucas Kaplan: The Brooklyn Nets go 52-30 and are your Eastern Conference runners-up after losing a tooth-and-nail series that goes the distance against the Philadelphia 76ers. Even thinking about that extreme hypothetical, more than six months away (and even more unlikely now that I have predicted it) is cringe-worthy. Oof. What a blow that would be. Losing to that team after a largely successful season, in which so much could have gone wrong if not for a resilient, overwhelming collection of talent? That would be just brutal. Oh well. That’s my prediction.

Collin Helwig: I’ll take the Nets finishing third in the East behind the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers with a 51-31 record. I see this as the year the 2019 offseason’s big winners cash in though, with the Nets and Los Angeles Clippers reaching the NBA Finals. However, I have the Clippers knocking off Brooklyn in six games.

We are of course not the only local outlet peering into the crystals. Here’s a summary of what the Nets beat writers are thinking going into Wednesday’s opener...