Brooklyn Cyclone: A recap of the Nets roller coaster of a season
Well, the dust has settled, and the Nets faithful have had a few days to decompress following that crushing Game Seven loss. Through all the trials and tribulations, this was without a doubt one of the more interesting seasons of Brooklyn Nets basketball, to say the least. In a year chock full of storylines and drama here’s a look at some of the major moments surrounding this year’s iteration of the Brooklyn Nets.
Early Season Woes For Nets
The season started out with much intrigue and excitement. Finally, Kevin Durant would see the floor for the first time since his devastating Achilles injury suffered during the 2019 NBA Finals. Paired alongside Kyrie Irving this duo was slated to make some noise in an Eastern Conference that looked to be wide open. After two dominating performances to start the season against the Warriors on opening night and Celtics on Christmas Day, the league was put on notice that this team was going to be a problem.
However, Brooklyn was quickly faced with adversity when Spencer Dinwiddie, the team’s loveable rebel went down in the third game of the season. The diagnosis of a partially torn ACL felt like a gut punch to a team that had high expectations for Dinwiddie in regards to their championship pursuit.
After such a promising showing in the first two games, Brooklyn wound up struggling the first few weeks of the season. The team went 6-6 over the first twelve games of the season, at one point having a worse record than the crosstown rival New York Knicks. But then, on an average Wednesday in January, something happened that would shake the NBA world.
Leading into the season it was clear James Harden wanted out of Houston. It got to the point where Harden came into camp out of shape and even called out his teammates during a postgame press conference. For a while, the Nets were rumored to be one of the places Harden wanted to be traded which led to everyone speculating on which assets Brooklyn needed to fork over in return for a player of Harden’s caliber. Well, that question was answered on January 13th when the major announcement dropped. The acquisition of Harden did not come without major cost. In the multi-team deal, Brooklyn traded away multiple players and pick swaps including two homegrown talents in Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen.
Lost in the nuclear bomb that was the Harden trade was that the Nets’ matchup against the Knicks that evening. A game in which Kevin Durant and a roster consisting of only nine players went into Madison Square Garden and won in convincing fashion. A cherry on top to a day that will live on in Nets fans’ folklore for a while.
As one of the more polarizing players in the sport, Kyrie Irving is someone that always seems to be in the headlines. It seemed as if those who dislike Kyrie (aside from the salty Celtics fans) were chomping at the bit waiting for the next Irving clickbait or locker room exploding story. Well, they got their wish, sort of. In mid-January Kyrie would take a leave of absence from the team missing a total of seven games over a two-week span. When Irving finally spoke about his absence he cited that he had “a lot of family and personal stuff going on”.
Over the course of his absence, many speculated as to what the true reason was. There were two things that happened which cast Irving in a bad light to some. One was a video of Irving at a birthday party for a family member. Irving was also seen on a zoom call with District Attorney candidate Tahanie Aboushi while Brooklyn played the Nuggets. The league fined Irving $50,000 for violating league health and safety protocols as well as being docked two game checks for the time in which he was in quarantine.
Minutes before Brooklyn’s February 5th matchup against the Raptors a report came out stating that Kevin Durant was undergoing contact tracing due to an associate he was around returning an inconclusive COVID-19 test result. This put Durant’s game status up in the air, however, the league determined that he could play because there was no positive test. Durant, who had to be removed from the starting lineup, came off the bench for the first time in his career.
Once he checked into the game things seemed to go back to normal until he was pulled off the floor during a timeout in the third quarter because the aforementioned associate of Durant had returned a positive COVID-19 test. Needless to say, it left many Nets fans frustrated and once again put the spotlight on the league’s COVID protocols which had been a hot-button issue for much of the early part of the season.
Following Irving’s “PTO” the Nets looked primed to fully unleash their “Scary Hours” onto the rest of the league. The Nets trio of superstars had their big national TV debut during Valentine’s Day weekend against KD’s former team the Golden State Warriors. To put it bluntly, Scary Hours flat-out put on a show en route to a blowout win. However, following that game reports came out concerning Durant and an apparent hamstring injury. Thought to be something minor at the time, Durant wound up out for two months and missed 23 games in total.
When he returned on April 8th against the Pelicans, Durant looked as if nothing had changed. Coming off the bench for just the second time in his career, Durant shot a perfect 5 for 5 from the field, amassing 17 points in only 19 minutes. It appeared the injury and time off had no effect on the future Hall of Famer.
Unfortunately for Kevin and Nets fans, the injury bug reared its ugly head again just four games later. This time a thigh contusion suffered early in a road game versus the Heat. Durant would miss another three games before returning to action against the Suns in which he put on a dazzling display off the bench.
Durant missed 37 of the 72 games this season due to either injury or load management.
“The Road Trip”
Sitting just three games over .500 in early February and fresh off a disappointing three-game losing streak, the Nets had an important but daunting five-game west coast road trip. The news of Durant’s hamstring injury shortly after the first game of the road trip put a damper on things but as we know, the show must go on. Brooklyn would take care of business in their next game on the trip, trouncing the hapless Kings. A game in which Kyrie had himself a 40-piece and James Harden collected a triple-double. It was then on to Phoenix for one of the more defining wins of the year.
With Kyrie Irving out with a lower back ailment, all eyes shifted James Harden. Could he lead an undermanned Brooklyn squad against one of the better teams in the west? And at first, it didn’t appear so as the Suns jumped on the Nets early and built a lead as big as 24 points in the second half. However, aided by 40 points from the bench, Harden led a furious comeback which was capped off by a signature Harden step-back three-pointer late in the fourth quarter which gave Brooklyn its first lead of the game. Landry Shamet’s lockdown defense on Devin Booker sealed the win for Brooklyn and gave them a win that was eerily reminiscent of the comeback win against the Kings during the 2018-19 season.
Now with three wins already under their belt, the Nets traveled to the city of angels to face off against the Lakers and Clippers. Two teams that most had pegged to be competing for a championship along with Brooklyn. With Kyrie back in the lineup, Brooklyn handled business against a shorthanded Lakers squad who were without the services of Anthony Davis and Dennis Schroder. That being said, with all the hype surrounding this matchup leading up to tip-off, it had to be a satisfying win for Nets fans. Brooklyn would cap off their road trip with a hard-fought win against the Clippers. A game that saw DeAndre Jordan sink the go-ahead basket and Kawhi Leonard get called for an offensive foul in the final seconds.
That road trip was important for multiple reasons. One, it showed the Nets even without the big three could take down any team in the league and were a force to be reckoned with. It was also the springboard for an impressive run for Brooklyn without the services of Durant. During KD’s 23-game absence the Nets went 19-4 and were easily regarded as the hottest team in basketball at that point.
“All this just to beat…”
At the start of the season, if you told someone the Nets would have both Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge on the roster, you’d probably think they were referring to the NBA 2K game. However, both Griffin and Aldridge, byproducts of the league’s buyout market, found themselves in Nets uniforms. This, as one might’ve guessed sent NBA Twitter in a tizzy. Comments and jokes ranging from “How much help do the Nets need” and “All this just to beat LeBron” to photoshops of superstars from other sports signing with the Nets ensued. Both Blake and Lamarcus were at interesting crossroads in their careers. Two former stars who were on the wrong side of father time looking for perhaps one last shot of chasing a title.
Griffin, who signed with the team in early March, was the first of the pairing to hop aboard the barreling freight train. This after Griffin reached an agreement to be bought out by the Pistons who were and are currently in the midst of a rebuild. The running joke around Blake was that he was “washed”. Griffin’s struggles in his fleeting moments with the Pistons were well documented including the fact he hadn’t dunked in well over a calendar year.
No longer tasked with carrying a heavy workload, Griffin thrived in his new role with the Nets. He helped fill the need for some consistent size in the frontcourt and allowed Brooklyn to run him as a small-ball center at times. Whether it was diving on the floor for loose balls, sliding in for a charge, or catching a “rare” dunk, Blake made it clear he wasn’t just hopping on the team for a free ride to a potential championship. He was here to contribute.
At the end of March Brooklyn added another piece from the buyout market. This time in the form of LaMarcus Aldridge from the Spurs. LMA, just like Griffin was signed with the hope of bolstering the frontcourt. Unfortunately for Aldridge and the Nets faithful, his time with Brooklyn was short-lived. After only three weeks with the team, Aldridge announced his retirement from basketball on April 15th. The reasoning was due to an irregular heartbeat that he experienced during the team’s loss to the Lakers on April 10th.
There wasn’t a team aside from perhaps the Lakers that was more injury-stricken than the Nets in regards to their star players. Harden, who’s regarded as one of the more durable players in the league and rarely misses time, saw himself out for an extended period of time due to a hamstring injury. After sitting out two games due to hamstring tightness, Harden gave it a go in Brooklyn’s rivalry game against the Knicks on April 5th. Harden re-aggravated his hamstring only four minutes into the game and did not return. James would go on to miss 18 games, returning right at the end of the season but putting him out of contention for the MVP.
There cannot be a recap of the season without acknowledging what a superior job GM Sean Marks did in putting this team together this season. Harden trade aside, the moves Marks did before and during the season have to really make you wonder how he didn’t win Executive of the year. First, let’s start off by saying Marks got the steal of the century by flipping Dzanan Musa for Bruce Brown. There aren’t enough adjectives to describe just how important a role Brown played for the Nets this season. Let’s also not forget the draft night acquisition of Landry Shamet.
Finding diamonds in the rough seems to come second nature for Sean at this point. Acquiring guys like Alize Johnson and Mike James who played important minutes for Brooklyn at stretches of the season. James, who was playing overseas at the start of the NBA season even played himself into playoff rotation. And of course, we cannot forget what a great signing of “Uncle” Jeff Green was for Brooklyn. Not only did he provide the Nets with excellent minutes all season, but his electrifying dunks had Nets Twitter in a frenzy on a weekly basis.
Final Thoughts For The Nets Season
Through all the trials and tribulations, injury reports, and the “pawns” trying their hardest this Nets season was one for the books. The fact that the trio of Durant, Irving, and Harden combined to miss 83 games and the Nets still wound up with the No.2 overall seed is pretty mind-boggling. Steve Nash, through all his blunders and mishaps that were well documented by Nets Twitter, deserves credit for navigating the treacherous waters that were this season. A tall order for a first-year head coach who had to deal with more than 35 different starting lineups.
That being said the Nets enter the offseason with many questions but also a lot of hope. The 2021-22 season will surely be a revenge tour for the big three who only managed to play eight games together during the regular season. Sean Marks will have an entire offseason to build around three future Hall of Famers. The book is officially closed on the 2020-21 Nets, but the sky is the limit for next year’s team.