Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen Defined an Era of Brooklyn Nets Basketball – And Created Another Lucas Kaplan January 16, 2021 Brooklyn Nets The other shoe finally dropped. And the Brooklyn Nets answered the question that had been hovering over the organization since their 2019 “clean sweep” of free agency. The Brooklyn Nets went the third-star route. In hindsight, the choice was inevitable. From Jrue Holiday to Bradley Beal, and finally, to James Harden, the Nets consistently emerged as players in major trade rumors throughout the past two years. Sean Marks was coy about his desires through words only. So the guessing game is over, and Brooklyn caught themselves the biggest fish in the pond. The shift that started once Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant put ink to paper is complete; the Nets are an evil empire. It’s the official beginning of a new era, unfamiliar territory for an organization that has alternated between laughingstock and lovable underdog since not just their move to Brooklyn, but for the last 40 years as a whole. Now, thanks to Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen — as much as anyone else — that mold has been broken. Those two swung the pendulum from laughingstock to upstart as much as any Net ever has, just by being Nets. Retrospective Look at the Brooklyn Nets’ Year in 2016 In February 2016, Sean Marks was hired as general manager fora Brooklyn franchise that was in complete and total desolation. It is impossible to overstate how dismal the situation he took over was. The on-court product was a 21-61 team that did not own any of their own draft picks for another three seasons. Just three definitive NBA-level talents were on the roster in Brook Lopez, Thaddeus Young, and Bojan Bogdanovic. There was nothing to look forward to, or to hope for. Brooklyn did not have a visible best-case scenario, other than hoping the next four-or-so years would speed by. In June of that year, Sean Marks managed to trade Thaddeus Young for a first-rounder in the upcoming draft. With the 20th pick, Caris LeVert became a Net. He was the prototypical Marks acquisition, in that he arrived in Brooklyn with questions surrounding him. LeVert was already 22, coming off a bevy of foot injuries sustained during his time at Michigan. And if he could stay on the court, he was a combo-guard that probably wasn’t a true point guard but probably didn’t shoot the three well enough to excel off-ball. And yet, it was a perfect marriage between player and circumstance. Under the newly hired Kenny Atkinson, a former assistant renowned for player development, LeVert had space to blossom. And Nets fans just wanted something to root for, amidst what was sure to be a handful of losing seasons. Previously, the Kevin Garnett–Paul Pierce experiment had immediately imploded. The experience, from start to finish, was agonizing. Sometimes Deron Williams didn’t feel like playing; it seemed like KG and Pierce aged three years on the flight from Boston to Brooklyn, and then Brook Lopez got hurt. The team was never actually good, despite occasional regular-season flashes. Deservedly so, the Nets were the laughingstock of the league and had bottomed out. LeVert was a breath of fresh air. He didn’t need to be anything more. Every addition to his game, a new finish, a new dribble move, was an event for Nets fans. Caris LeVert was a blank canvas; he represented hope and was such a joy to cheer for. Here was this 6-foot-6, shifty ball-handler, a swirling concoction of limbs every time he drove to the basket. He always played hard. He said all the right things with a soft voice and a smile in every media appearance. Nets fans just wanted to see him succeed with every fiber of our being. Later, 2016 brought Joe Harris and Spencer Dinwiddie to Brooklyn. Two NBA castoffs that the Brooklyn Nets hoped would turn from one man’s trash to their treasure. And, eventually, they did. But Caris LeVert embodied a different sense of pride for Nets fans. The absence of draft picks was all you heard, for years. Yet here was LeVert, getting better with each game he played. Harris and Dinwiddie came to Brooklyn seeking refuge, but LeVert was truly Brooklyn’s own. Reason to Tune In So, as the calendar flipped to 2017, Nets fans at least had a reason to tune in and watch the squad. In February of that year, Marks traded Bogdanovic to a contending Wizards squad in exchange for a first-round draft pick. After a successful rookie campaign from LeVert, where he missed second-team all-rookie by two spots, another first-round pick brought nothing but excitement. Bogdanovic was of no value to the still-terrible Nets, especially on an expiring contract. To extract a first-round pick for him was tremendous work by Marks. It resulted in another selection in the high-20s, where the Nets selected Jarrett Allen. To snag LeVert and Allen in consecutive drafts rejuvenated the fanbase. Like LeVert, Allen commanded immense love and support immediately. He had supposedly fallen to the Nets because of concerns about his love for basketball. In reality, he was and is just a lovable nerd who maintains an interest in videogames and science in his free time. Allen jumped off the screen out every time the Nets played, with his skinny, seven-foot frame and signature afro that seemed to expand every offseason. And off the court, like LeVert, he exuded charm, but more than that, thankfulness to be a Net. Allen took pride in Brooklyn, more pride than many fans probably took for what was still a franchise firmly in laughingstock condition. It all added up to make him a fan favorite. And when he stepped on the court there was no question: this man loved basketball. Allen was just 19-years-old when he debuted for Brooklyn. Sure, he got pushed around quite a bit and had some awkward moments where he looked like the lanky kid in gym class. But he was never once scared. There was nobody Allen didn’t want to meet at the rim, on either end. After that poster on Lauri Markkanen, Allen was showing up on highlight reels after what seemed like every other game. He put the Nets on SportsCenter more than anyone since the days of Vince Carter. Allen and play-by-play man Ian Eagle were a match made in heaven. ‘Fro-down’ quickly entered every Nets fans’ lexicon. And nobody sold an Allen stuffing like Eagle. With Allen and LeVert, and a core of castoffs that now included the moonballing D’Angelo Russell, the Nets were at least spunky in 2017-18, if not good yet. The fans looked forward to watching them every night. During a rebuild, that’s all you can ask for. The Season Where the Brooklyn Nets Arrived And then, the magical 2018-19 season arrived. And while magical might seem a bit strong for a team that finished 42-40 in the weaker conference, the aura of that team was simply otherworldly. In the second game of the year, Caris LeVert hit a game-winning layup with a second remaining to defeat the Knicks. Isolated at the top of the key, he hit Tim Hardaway Jr. with a couple crossovers, darted to the rim, ate some contact, and banked it in. He landed, looked at a roaring crowd, and flexed for all to see. It brought the Nets to a whopping 1-1 record, but it felt cathartic nonetheless. Brooklyn finally had some young dudes. Through 13 games, LeVert was excelling as a primary creator, and looked to be pushing for an All-Star bid, or perhaps a Most Improved Player award. Brooklyn was at 6-7, better than most had expected, as they travelled to Minnesota looking to get to .500. Nets fans can only stomach what happened that day vs. the Timberwolves because we know now it ultimately has a happy ending. Caris LeVert, giving it his all, attempted to get a chase-down block on a layup he likely had no shot at towards the end of the first half. He came down on his right leg, and all of a sudden, his foot was pointing the wrong way. It felt like a cruel joke. The Nets finally had something positive; the rebuild was steadily progressing, and LeVert, perhaps the face of it, was on the floor screaming in pain. He had already overcome so many injuries just to make it to Brooklyn. It looked like his career would be forever altered. Yet, the next day, word came that he wouldn’t even need surgery for the injury, and would return before the end of the season. It was miraculous. Still the Brooklyn Nets had to re-adjust without their leader, and failed to do so quickly, falling to 8-18. At least they finally had their own draft pick that summer, and who knew, maybe Zion Williamson could end up a Net. Then, suddenly, that didn’t matter. The Nets transformed into the best team in the league from December to January, going 20-6 over a nearly two-month span to put themselves in prime playoff position. That run was full of exhilarating basketball, and it carried on throughout the season. D’Angelo Russell became an All-Star, and Jarrett Allen cemented himself as a capable starting center at just 20 years of age. Joe Harris was shooting nearly 50 percent from three. Spencer Dinwiddie was in the mix for Sixth Man of the Year. It was all built from the ground up, and the Nets felt unstoppable. Caris LeVert returned in February, and that capped off a fever dream of a stretch for Nets fans, from his injury to his return. Brooklyn received consistent praise from national media outlets. The way they played was simply a joy to watch. Kenny Atkinson led a team that played hard every night, and was never out of any game. The homegrown Jarrett Allen stuffed a LeBron James dunk attempt on national television. He would continue to deny superstars at the rim, even stuffing a Giannis Antetokounmpo dunk. James Harden and Anthony Davis also got victimized, and the Fro simply embarrassed Blake Griffin on a number of occasions. The memorable moments didn’t stop there. There was the ridiculous triple-overtime victory visiting the Cleveland Cavaliers. There was Spencer Dinwiddie single-handedly bringing the Nets back from the dead in Houston, and D’Angelo Russell doing the same in Orlando two days later. Dinwiddie and Joe Harris scooped up Skills Challenge and Three-Point Contest victories at All-Star Weekend. And, of course, there was the miracle comeback in Sacramento. Unquestionably, the Nets were the most fun team in the league in early 2019. Their bench celebrations stole the show. Somehow, someway, Sean Marks had turned a listless franchise into must-see TV. Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen had been Nets for life, and embodied the grind it took to get to a place of relevancy. The future was bright for Brooklyn, a sentence that seemed unimaginable just three years prior. Of course, the Nets got eliminated by the Philadelphia 76ers in that year’s playoffs. Everything began to change. By the summer of 2019, LeVert and Allen were consistent trade rumor darlings, although just the thought of them being ripped away from Nets fans’ grasp was heartbreaking. It took until this Wednesday, but that became reality. James Harden, the future first-ballot HOFer, unbelievably, is a Net. And yet, it’s bittersweet. That alone shows what Allen and LeVert will always mean to the Nets franchise. The organization, in the midst of doom and gloom, poured all they could into their precious draft picks, picks that felt like they might never come. And in return, LeVert and Allen gave their all to the city, and to the Nets. They made rooting for the Nets cool, helping to turn them into an collection of oddballs and castoffs that played hard every night. Correlating the Nets of Yesteryear to Now They also turned the Nets into what they are now: a destructive, polarizing force whose every loss will be cause for concern. It was ultimately the goal of the rebuild, a rebuild which Sean Marks can claim as the most impressive in NBA history. Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen, who didn’t even end up in Houston, made their most final, and perhaps most important contribution to Nets basketball by being good enough to be involved in a trade for James Harden. It feels wrong. They were, and will always be, our guys. But, sports, and the goal of winning, moves on. It’s the risk of getting attached to individuals in team sports. How could you not feel attached to LeVert and Allen? They were the team. They were an era. It may feel silly at first to define the 2016-2019 Nets as an era. Just three years that brought a singular playoff win won’t stand out in the record books. But further into the depths of NBA hell than any team had been before, arose a team that loved and competed for each other; they played with an infectious joy. Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen, from their draft days to January 13th, 2021, gave Nets fans more moments than we ever could have imagined would come when Sean Marks took over. Those moments did not come from expectations, or a need to win, but from the joy of watching players grow into themselves. Those moments reset Brooklyn Nets basketball, in a time where iterations of teams come and go as All-NBA talents switch teams every season. The Nets were simply building a culture and enjoying the ride. Three years in the modern NBA is a lifetime. It’s enough to grow so emotionally invested in a couple of players that it’s bittersweet when they’re traded for James freaking Harden. Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen provided Nets fans an opportunity to love the game again. They allowed Brooklyn to flourish as an organization, to be the place where the stars want to come play. LeVert and Allen gave their all to the Nets, which allowed the Nets to give their all to them. The title-or-bust squad Nets fans have now is a testament to the Brooklyn careers of Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen. It’s a shame they won’t be around to enjoy the ride.