It has been years since New Jersey was left behind for the greener pastures of Brooklyn. It was 2012 when the then-New Jersey Nets finally made the move a reality and set their eyes on the Barclays Center, the arena built to host the current installment of the franchise.
The first draftee expected to be part of this new iteration of the team was a Turkish player by the name of Ilkan Karaman. As time would tell, that selection would amount to another bad decision by the front office given that he never played a minute in the NBA. The first true superstar to talk about joining the newly branded franchise, Dwight Howard, ended not being traded to the Nets and instead, the team opted to trade for Joe Johnson in a not-so-good move that predated the infamous Boston deal that would come months after that.
To be honest, it wasn’t the prettiest of starts for the new team, a team that was in shambles at the time but that carried a tradition that had seen the Nets play for the championship 10 years before in matchups against the Lakers and the Spurs in 2002 and 2003. Yes, they lost both of their opportunities, but the teams once carried by Kidd, Jefferson, Kittles, Martin, etc. were fun to watch and presented serious winning habits. That’s not to say the Brooklyn Nets didn’t fare well with their win-now approach of the first few seasons, though. Brooklyn made the playoffs three consecutive times during the Joe-Deron-Lopez era, yet age quickly caught up to the first two and definitely to Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, both washed up and out of the team by 2015.
From that point on, and until this upcoming postseason (yes, you read it right, the Nets are going to make it), Brooklynites would never see their team playing for the title. But after three seasons of pain and bad vibes around Flatbush Ave, things took a turn. For the first time since 2014, when Joe Johnson made the East All-Star team, a Net name was called among those of the very best players of the Association. Who would have said this would be the year, and much more, who would have said it would be D’Angelo Russell, a kicked-from-LA No. 2 pick out of Ohio State? On top of that, Joe Harris was also part of the festivities by taking part in the Three-Point Contest on Saturday. Oh, I said “taking part?” I meant winning the Three-Point Contest. No other Net had made a Saturday night appearance since Plumlee in 2015 at the Slam Dunk Contest. And Brooklyn was also able to put two men in the Friday game of rookies and sophomores, with Jarrett Allen and Rodions Kurucs part of the rosters.
So, all in all, can Brooklyn ask for more? I don’t think so. Consider where the team is at, where it comes from, and how it has reached the situation it is currently handling.
This iteration of the Brooklyn Nets is young, powerful, and it is calling for people’s attention here and there, no matter where they live, no matter where they’re from and no matter their roots or interests. This team is making the spotlight and turning heads. This team has also featured only three players with 8+ years of NBA experience (Ed Davis, DeMarre Carroll and Jared Dudley), which is to say, this team definitely has a bright future to it.
Judging by VORP (an estimated value of how many points per 100 possessions a player produces over what a replacement-level player would do), the three best Nets this season have been D’Angelo Russell (22 years old, All-Star), Jarrett Allen (20, Rookie Challenge Participant) and Joe Harris (27, 3-Pt Contest Champion). Those three are triumphs for the franchise and its current operation corps. Russell was acquired via trade, given the reins of the team, and developed into what has turned to be one of the 24-best players of the league. Jarrett Allen, a 22nd overall pick, was the first draft-hit of the new Nets since their move to Brooklyn. Joe Harris was drafted by Cleveland in 2014 but spent more time in the G-League than in the NBA up to the moment when the Nets signed him, June 2016, after no one seemed to care about the shooter from Virginia.
Some would still call it luck, but you can’t possibly be lucky so many times in such a short period of time.
Not in the wildest of dreams would a team that won 21, 20 and 28 games during the last three seasons have imagined the turn around that it is experiencing this year. Sure, Brooklyn is not ruling the league. The Nets are not the ones dealing the cards. Exiting the All-Star break, the team sits at 30-29, is playing .500+ ball and ranks 6th in the East with 2 and 2.5 games of advantage over immediate-challengers Charlotte, Detroit, and Miami. The next teams in the list don’t have good looking hopes for this season’s run for the gold. Orlando doesn’t know what to do with itself. Washington is at a crossroads. Atlanta, Chicago, Cleveland, and our good neighbor Knicks are all climbing Mount Zion.
Both Brooklyn fans and inner workers can’t ask for more. Per Man-Games Lost, a site that tracks injury-related data during the season, the Nets’ players have missed game time at the third-highest rate (200+ games) in the League only behind Denver and Cleveland. Even with that, playing in one of the hardest divisions and facing one of the toughest schedules in the Association, the team is in an enviable position entering the final stretch of the season.
With such a volatile standings’ table as the one the Eastern Conference presents at the break, in which Indiana, Philadelphia, and Boston are separated only by one game, it is hard to predict who the Nets will be facing this postseason on the first round of the playoffs. Although a weakened Pacers team would be the easiest of foes to battle with come April, they are on a 6-4 run during their last 10 games so it doesn’t look like Oladipo’s absence is affecting them that much. Brooklyn, on its side, has the return of Caris LeVert to celebrate and although they’ll miss Dinwiddie, they still have Napier serving as a good backup to D’Angelo Russell PG duties.
For a team whose average age doesn’t exceed 25 years, whose average player experience is at around four years in the league and which is not even close to the top spenders with many players on low-salary deals, the present and future can’t look brighter for the Nets.
Keeping in mind that just two, even one season ago this franchise seemed to be lost in the desert and without sight of the light at the end of the rebuilding tunnel, the current outcome is the best we all could ask for.
Start forgetting about draft picks and lottery percentages and focus on the eight-best records of the East and postseason seeds. Playoff hoops are about to come back to Brooklyn, just like in the good old New Jersey days.