Has a pair of heart-breaking losses broken the Brooklyn Nets’ spirit? It depends on who you ask.
Royce O’Neale kept it steady at Thursday’s shootaround when discussing the L’s, the first one a result of the Los Angeles Clippers closing the game on a 22-0 run, the second after a 32-18 fourth quarter at the hands of the New York Knicks.
The unfortunate through-line? Brooklyn didn’t merely have a chance to win both games, but frankly should have. And on Thursday morning, O’Neale looked at the glass as half-full, commending his team for being in it, designating the tough losses as part of the natural ebbs and flows of the season.
“I mean, we fight on every possession,” said the vet. “All 48 minutes. We might have a minute or two stretch where we can’t let things take over or keep lingering on. Just got to think about it and move on.”
It was a vintage O’Neale presser, where he spoke for a while without saying much at all. “I mean, we make a couple of those shots at the end, a couple of things go our way, it’s a whole different game. We win those games. I mean, we’re right there and coming to the last possession of every game. So I think, you know, we’re doing something right to be in the game, at least.”
Simply being in the game, however, isn’t good enough for a Nets squad that’s fallen to nine games under .500 at 17-26. Being in the game has only set the team and its fans up for frustration and, after Knicks fans turned Barclays Center into a sea of blue and orange, embarrassment.
Those feelings, rather than optimism, were front and center when Cam Thomas spoke at Thursday’s shootaround. The vibe felt familiar, a return to the first two years of Thomas’ career as the straight-faced, ain’t-stuff-funny public speaker. His answers were not just short, but brusque, declining to get into the specifics of Brooklyn’s problems as O’Neale had, but without the clichéd optimism.
Yet, even in such few words, Thomas let the imagination wander, with comments that didn’t feel...aimless:
Nobody can blame the third-year guard for his frustration about the losing streak. And while Thomas does lead the team in fourth-quarter minutes over the last two losses, perhaps it goes further than that.
While he played the entirety of the final frame in L.A., he sat the final seven minutes of the subway-series loss (excluding the game’s final possession), and has been frequently unable to crack the closing lineup. No matter who’s been on the court for the Nets in the clutch, they’ve faltered this season — BKN ranks 23rd in clutch-time net rating — with issues that have to go beyond personnel.
Still, when I asked Thomas about the end-of-game lineups, he didn’t appear to be a fan:
Asked Cam Thomas if his fourth-quarter minutes feel performance-based or “random” based on the first three quarters.— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) January 25, 2024
For all of Royce O’Neale’s charming efforts, Thomas’ disposition paints a different, perhaps clearer, picture of the Brooklyn Nets in the present moment. And how can you blame him?
The trade deadline now looms over the team with promise, with hope even. Not to magically transform the Nets into a contender but as a potential boost just before the All-Star break brings some rest.
A shuffling of the cards could provide clarity on the organization’s long-term hopes, as well as its views on the roster today. Is O’Neale one of the vets headed for greener pastures, and will departures like his clear playing time for Thomas and others? Can a couple of fresh faces inject some life into a roster that seems resigned to its fate, currently?
It’s bleak in Brooklyn, but that’s what the Nets have to look forward to right now. Don’t believe me? Just ask Cam Thomas.