Let’s set the scene. The two biggest words in sports: Game Seven. Playing in front of a sold-out home crowd in Brooklyn, New York. Two serious contenders throwing haymakers at each other for six hard fought physically draining games. The scoreboard reads 109-107 Bucks. Six seconds left in the game and potentially the Brooklyn Nets’ season.
A nervous crowd of 17,000 get to their feet, many of whom have their phones out ready to record a potential magical moment that could break the internet. Kevin Durant has been magical the entire series, James Harden is playing hobbled through a grade two hamstring injury, and Kyrie Irving is anxiously watching from the sidelines while he continues to rehab his ankle injury suffered in Game Four of the series, hoping his team could sneak out with a victory and give him a chance to return in a future series. Based on those descriptions, it is absolutely no secret to anyone who is going to be taking this shot, you know who he is.
Here they go, season on the line, down two with exactly six seconds left. This is the moment you dream about as a kid. That moment you always replay in your driveway or at the park, counting down. Five, four, three, two, one… for the win! This is that same moment, but on the world’s largest stage.
Jeff Green inbounds the ball to Durant who is smothered by PJ Tucker. He launches a difficult and deep turnaround jumper… It’s good! Durant knocks down the three! The crowd is deafening loud, the internet is in disbelief of the potential game winner they just saw…but not quite.
Upon review its clear Durant’s foot was on the line, ruling the jumper a two-point shot to tie the game at 109. The camera zooms into his face and he lets out a four-letter expletive while cringing in disbelief.
The game would go into overtime but ultimately, the Nets would run out of gas and would experience a gut-wrenching loss on their home court of game seven of the Conference semifinals.
They were inches away from advancing, literally… Inches away. To the point where many started to overanalyze Durant’s superhuman size 18 shoes and wonder just how much smaller his foot would have had to be for that heroic shot to have been a three pointer.
A disappointed Durant talked to reporters after the game.
“My big ass foot stepped on the line. I just saw how close I was to ending their season with that shot.” Durant proclaimed.
That brings us here. The Nets offseason. An offseason that begun much earlier than anticipated but ultimately, an assortment of injuries and unfortunate luck led to their demise. They are now left to refuel and galvanize their squad for year two of the big three era. There are a barrage of questions surrounding this team from the coaching staff to the roster itself. Where to begin?
The great news for the Nets is that they will keep their big three intact as well as seek unique ways to improve the supporting cast surrounding them for the upcoming season. No drastic changes should be made to a team with Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving. After all, if those three were healthy, the Nets would probably be raising a championship banner at Barclays Center in October.
There are certainly some moves that can be made around the edges based on weaknesses that were transparent in this year’s playoffs though. A backup ball handler and a bruising/rebounding big come to mind.
The Nets are severely into the luxury tax and will look to find ways to improve through exceptions and veterans who would be willing to take minimum contracts to have an increased chance at winning a ring.
Roster Decisions… Many of Them
Roster decisions, plenty of them. Sean Marks and Joe Tsai will need to have an honest conversation about which players they want to retain and which they would be willing to let walk in favor of other free agents who might fit the team better.
Spencer Dinwiddie declined his $12.3 million player option in hopes of landing a larger deal. He is now an unrestricted free agent. This does not necessarily mean he will not return to the Nets, but means he wants to cash out on what will most likely be the largest payday of his career.
Most importantly though is the future of the big three. Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving are all eligible for extensions and can choose to remain in Brooklyn either long or short term. Will the Nets’ stars elect to continue what they have been building in Brooklyn or seek another opportunity elsewhere?
All these decisions are a lot to process. The roster next season may look nearly the same, or it may not. Marks, who finished third this year in the race for Executive of the Year, certainly has his work cut out for him.
Replenishing the Coaching Staff
The Nets coaching staff was essentially a super team in its own. When the Nets hired a rookie head coach in Steve Nash, they did their best to surround him with an experienced coaching staff to ease his transition to coaching and provide him with proper guidance. It comes as no surprise that other teams are now starting to poach the brilliant minds that are on the coaching staff in Brooklyn.
Defensive-minded coach Ime Udoka was recently hired as the head coach of the Boston Celtics, while Jacque Vaughn is currently linked to the Pelicans, and Mike D’Antoni might see a change in scenery as well.
It will be up to Sean Marks to pluck coaching talent from other teams and replenish the coaching staff. No names have been linked to the Nets yet but expect the names to share some previous connection to either Marks or Steve Nash.
Looking Ahead to Next Season
Adam Silver had to make an assortment of challenging decisions this season to get back to the traditional October-June season timeline and not overlap the season with the 2021 Summer Olympics. A shortened season meant more games being played in a shorter time, and unfortunately meant more injuries across the league.
On top of this, the NBA (along with the rest of the world) dealt with the pandemic which meant for much of the season, teams were playing in front of no fans or a very limited capacity stadium. Next season will be what we are accustomed to. All arenas will be at full capacity and there will be a summer league, normal training camp, and preseason.
It seems as if this has been said for the past two years since the team acquired Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, but for the Brooklyn Nets, this upcoming season will be their most important in franchise history. As the big three continue to build their culture in Brooklyn and establish chemistry with one another, health will continue to be the biggest obstacle in the way of them and a title.
For the Nets, they have fully embraced the villain role and will most likely be the title favorite entering the 2021-22 season in October. Experience and failure are often the best forms of motivation. The Nets will use theirs to galvanize themselves and remain motivated throughout the course of a lengthy NBA season.