The Brooklyn Nets: Success at What Cost?

A narrative is developing in the NBA, and the Brooklyn Nets are cast as the villains as they acquire immense talent and play a must-win championship season.

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It’s no doubt that the current NBA pales in comparison to the past. Over the years, the league has depreciated from games with admirable physicality and intense rivalries to what the veterans can only call “soft.” Players can only play with so much heart since a little vigor or bump will earn them a foul. And who can forget flopping? On top of that, this era of the NBA is known for superteams, franchises containing several All-Stars and eliminating nearly all competition in the league.

A lot has changed since the 2007-2008 Boston Celtics, the first modern NBA superteam, posted the best single-season turnaround in NBA history and third-most wins in franchise history and won their first championship since 1986. The championship team was led by the triumvirate, or the “Big Three,” composed of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett, and no successor has quite been like it.

The Brooklyn Nets had always been the “little brother” franchise, playing second fiddle to the New York Knicks, New York’s pride and joy and primary team until the summer of 2019. Of course, that all changed when All-Stars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving joined the Nets as free agents. Durant signed a four-year $164 million deal with the Nets while Irving agreed on a four-year $141 million deal. In a matter of weeks, the Nets went from struggling to close out games to headlining the championship discussion.

Durant was coming off a three-year run with the Golden State Warriors including back-to-back championships and NBA Finals MVP titles in the 2017 and 2018 NBA seasons when he joined the Nets. Nonetheless, Durant never received his coveted validation as he played in the shadow of the other members of the Warriors’ All-Star “Fantastic Four,” Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. However, a title in Brooklyn would secure his legacy—Durant would have single-handedly changed the narrative of the New York underdog.

As for Irving, he felt he had failed as a leader with the Celtics and expressed the need to relocate from Boston. He also stated that the death of his grandfather compelled him to relinquish his commitment to basketball and re-evaluate his priorities in life. Brooklyn proved to be in his best interest as it offered him a clean slate to restart and allowed the New Jersey native to play closer to home.

Now, these two stars have already had complicated legacies, and joining the Nets was meant to be a fresh start, a chance to build an untainted legacy. However, the Nets’ pursuit of a superteam has only complicated matters, casting the Nets as the NBA’s newest “villains.”

Prior to the recent acquisitions, the Nets were already a serious contender with Durant and Irving serving as a robust foundation, supplemented by Joe Harris, DeAndre Jordan, and several other talented players. However, the Nets saw potential in a new “Big Three,” and noticing James Harden’s issues in Houston, the Nets carried out a historic four-team trade, landing the former MVP and eight-time All-Star in Brooklyn. Since then, Harden has proven to be a serious threat on the court as he earned the title of Eastern Conference Player of the Month in February, averaging 25.2 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 11.0 assists per game.

The Nets had already assembled a deadly collection of players, arguably one of the most formidable trios in the history of the game. But that didn’t stop the Nets from seeking out more firepower. While they boasted the second-best record in the Eastern Conference, the Nets erred on the side of caution, recruiting even more of the biggest names in the game.

Soon after securing the Irving-Durant-Harden trio, the Nets signed six-time All-Star forward Blake Griffin in free agency. Though many were discontent, insisting that Brooklyn was acquiring too many stars, the veteran forward dismissed any criticism. While Griffin came out of one of the worst seasons in his career with the Detroit Pistons, averaging 12.3 points and 5.2 rebounds per game, he offers versatility and depth on the frontcourt to the Nets, improving their interior presence and rebounding abilities. Furthermore, standing at 6’9”, Griffin fills the Nets’ needs for sizable men on the court after the team dealt Jarrett Allen in the four-team trade to acquire Harden.

The Nets had already been serious contenders, but their NBA buyout earned them a label as the “Yankees of the NBA.” Nevertheless, the franchise expressed indifference to the perception of their team, soon acquiring yet another All-Star, a seven-time All-Star to be exact: power forward LaMarcus Aldridge. The addition was the latest case of the Nets’ championship appeal, but Aldridge recently retired due to his Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, which involves a rapid heartbeat and posed a serious threat to his health while playing basketball.

Regardless of Aldridge’s retirement, the Nets have received widespread backlash as many in the NBA world are upset by the lethal superteam they have built. ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith even equated the Nets’ actions to “buying the championship,” expressing abhorrence that the Nets are merely buying everybody with no regard for competition. Many analysts have even pointed fingers at Los Angeles Lakers legend LeBron James, insisting that the Nets have pursued a superteam to dethrone the current champions, the Lakers, who boast a talented roster of their own, including power forward Anthony Davis and center Andre Drummond.

Despite the team’s endless potential, the “Big Three” has constantly been broken up due to injuries and the COVID-19 pandemic, taking away time from building the necessary chemistry between the players. Durant missed 23 straight games due to a left hamstring strain. As he neared his return, Harden was forced to check out of a game due to a hamstring injury and was expected to be off the court for 10 days. Irving has also been in and out the lineup, missing several games due to health and safety protocols and personal reasons. Regardless, the team has been quietly confident, looking forward to dominating once the stars are all reunited on the court.

The Nets have become clear, perhaps even unstoppable, contenders for the NBA title, but they are also under pressure as this year is now a must-win championship season. They also recognize that the overwhelming talent on the roster is not enough to win and that the title will not be earned without a fight. However, the inexorable offensive force the Nets have put together has defeated the purpose of many of the players joining the Nets in the first place. Durant, Harden, and Irving sought to fill the voids in their careers by joining the Nets. In addition, they also expressed their need to reconnect with and develop their game by starting over. As dominant as he is, Harden has yet to win a championship ring, and Irving’s wins have been in the shadow of one of the greats: James. Durant made an incredible run with the Warriors only to receive criticism for the immense talent by his side, namely Curry, Green, and Thompson. Now, with the addition of Griffin, it is clear the Nets will stop at nothing to win, and at this point, they cannot afford to stop as they must secure the championship or risk eternally tainting their legacy.