The Nets Are Here to Stay

After several bad seasons, the Nets are finally picking it up: putting together wins and making Brooklyn proud.

Reading Time: 6 minutes

I’ve had a love-hate relationship with the Brooklyn Nets over the past years. I was nine-years-old and just getting into basketball when my dad told me our home borough of Brooklyn was getting an NBA team. I was concerned at first, because nine-year-old me felt a certain allegiance to the New York Knicks. I had never been to any games, but I would always watch games on TV with my dad and read about their achievements (and failures) in The New York Times. However, after some thought, I decided that the Brooklyn Nets sounded right for me. My dad promised he would take me and my brother to see them play in Barclays Center, a 10-minute walk from our house, and my friends and I all agreed that the Nets would be our team. This decision was made easier by the Knicks’ drought of wins and good players. I wasn’t interested anymore. It was time for a change.

Fast forward a year, and the Nets have made their entrance into the league, winning 49 games before barely losing to the Bulls in the first round of the playoffs. I was in love. Joe Johnson had become my new favorite player with his saucy moves and smooth step back jumper. Deron Williams and Brook Lopez rounded out a big three for the Nets that, in my opinion, could have given LeBron James’s Heat a run for their money. Barclays Center was as lively as any arena across the US, teeming with new season ticket holders and passionate fans from all five boroughs.

But here comes the hate part of the relationship. Right before I left for sleepaway camp in June of 2013, the Nets’ general manager, Billy King, made a blockbuster trade with the Boston Celtics, trading away a plethora of draft picks for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Even as an 11-year-old, I noticed the problems with this move. First, despite their legendary status, Garnett and Pierce were too old. Second, in my opinion, the Nets were giving too many future draft picks away for two guys at the ends of their illustrious careers. The Nets made the playoffs again that year, and I vividly remember celebrating in the dugout of my Little League game as I heard the news of Paul Pierce hitting a game-saving block to beat the Toronto Raptors in seven games. In the second round, though, the Nets lost to Heat, ending a two-year playoff run and beginning a dark age in Brooklyn.

Garnett and Pierce left the next year, leaving me to further question the Nets’ trade. This trade began a stretch of time when the Nets were just plain bad. No coach could remedy their problems, the constant flow of unwanted players into their lineup maintained a level of uncertainty for fans, and King made one poor decision after another. The team had no future. None. I watched the NBA draft for three years in agony as the Celtics carefully selected one young stud after another, knowing that the Nets could have gotten those players if they hadn’t made that trade back in 2013. Looking back on those dark days, I realize the main problem with the Nets was in fact Billy King and not just because he had traded away their future. He didn’t make smart draft picks for the few the team had left and failed to create any team chemistry or cohesion. He would sign players without thinking about how they would fit in with the rest of the team, turning the Nets into a jumble of aimless role players. Finally, the Nets got rid of Billy King in 2016, naming Sean Marks as the new general manager. Marks immediately made an impact on the team, drafting Jarrett Allen as a solid big man with potential for years to come. I was optimistic about this season too because Marks had made another smart move. Unlike previous years, he kept the same core of players on the Nets, letting them improve their chemistry. This season, players like Joe Harris, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and D'Angelo Russell came back for a second year to join Allen and the up-and-coming Caris LeVert. The Nets weren’t proven yet, but their team was definitely exciting.

The beginning of this season was tough for me, though. I’ve been patiently waiting for something to come together for the Nets, and watching an 8-18 start was painful. Don’t get me wrong—over the years, I’ve loved watching different players play. Sean Kilpatrick, a G-league player scoring in bunches throughout the season, was a rollercoaster ride in 2017, and I was always a big Brook Lopez fan. But the Nets needed to win. On top of their bad start, their one standout player, LeVert, got a terrible leg injury after averaging 20 points a game over the first quarter of the season. I had almost lost faith and hadn’t been watching games at all until a few weeks ago. One night, I saw a notification on my phone about how the Nets were on a five-game win streak. I did a double take and then investigated further. It turns out the loss of LeVert had actually motivated them, and the whole team was producing and working well together.

This newfound prowess was best demonstrated in a game against the Lakers, in which the Nets were aiming to get their sixth win in a row. The best part of the game wasn’t one specific player either; the team was playing great and working well together. The Nets starting point guard Russell had 13 assists and led the Nets to a huge win against James. The Nets held onto their lead throughout the game, and it was incredible to watch as different players continued to step up and knock down shots. Their chemistry was apparent in many aspects of their game, most notably on defense. Even though James was still on his own level for the whole game, scoring more than 30 points, the Nets played great team defense and were quick to double James and put him on the free throw line instead of letting him get his usual highlight dunks. Allen even blocked a Lebron James dunk attempt, becoming only the eighth player ever to accomplish the feat. The most astonishing thing about the Nets during this game and their winning streak, as I said before, was the balance they were achieving. There wasn’t just one player carrying the team; everyone was producing in all categories. Russell, as demonstrated in the Lakers game, was dishing it off to his teammates, Harris was pouring in a consistent 15 points a game, and backup center Ed Davis was rebounding the ball at an incredible rate.

One of the Nets’ main struggles in the beginning of the season wasn’t their scoring or defense, but their inability to close out games. They kept it close with some of the top teams in the NBA but couldn’t scrape away a win at the end. I distinctly remember a game against the powerful 76ers, in which the Nets led for the whole game, shutting down Joel Embiid. It was looking great for them until the last play of the game when Jimmy Butler drilled an improbable three. The Nets seemed to have learned their lesson now and are becoming more mature and closing out close games when needed. One day following the clutch win against the Lakers, the Nets were able to grab another close one from the Chicago Bulls. Reaching their seventh straight win in a row, the Nets hung with the inexperienced Bulls for the whole game even with fatigue from playing 24 hours before. Unlike the 76ers, the Bulls didn’t even get off a shot at the end of the game, as the Nets played stifling team defense.

In my eyes, the Nets are looking great for the rest of the season. LeVert is going to come back at some point, hopefully regaining his role as the primary scorer, and the chemistry between the talented backcourt of sixth man Spencer Dinwiddie and Russell will continue to produce points in the meantime. Coach Kenny Atkinson has impressed in recent days, making smart substitutions and figuring out the best, most balanced lineups for the Nets. He even chose to switch to a zone defense in a hard matchup against the Pacers, getting his team back in the game. The Nets are firing on all cylinders, and it’s an exciting time for Brooklyners. Hopefully, come May, I’ll be sitting in Barclays Center, cheering the Nets on in their first playoff game in three years as a “Brooooookkkkkklyn” chant reverberates throughout the arena.