A 7-game winning streak with a roster full of solid role players and a ton of cap space for next summer has the NBA buzzing about the Brooklyn Nets.
The Brooklyn Nets are the hottest team in the NBA.
Winners of seven straight, the Nets are turning heads around the league and changing the narrative of what many were labeling a lost season.
The seven-game streak is the longest since January 2013, the franchise’s first season in Brooklyn.
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Tuesday night’s 115-110 win over LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers garnered nationwide media attention and praise of Brooklyn’s level of play. Kenny Atkinson’s squad was able to fight off a fourth-quarter rally as well as a 36-point, 13-rebound, eight-assist performance from LeBron.
Among the biggest changes by Brooklyn over the seven-game span is the balance in contributions from top to bottom.
D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie have led the attack, averaging 17.9 and 24.4 points respectively, but players like Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Joe Harris, Jarrett Allen, Rodions Kurucs and Jared Dudley have contributed on a nightly basis.
Russell said after the win over the Lakers during a postgame interview on YES Network:
"“My teammates made shots, that’s why I had thirteen assists. Everybody’s falling into place, being where they need to be for us to get that done. It took a collective group for us to get this one.”"
After Caris LeVert was sidelined with a dislocated foot and the Nets fell into an eight-game losing streak, many assumed Brooklyn would tank for the rest of the season. General manager Sean Marks and Atkinson had other plans.
Atkinson told Michael Scotto of The Athletic:
"“I don’t think if we come out of here with the same record of 28 wins we’ll be happy. I think we’ve got to show progress and we don’t wanna go backwards.”"
Brooklyn’s improvement in the fourth quarter, an area where they were among the worst teams in the league prior to the streak, is a very encouraging sign.
In Tuesday’s win over the Lakers, the Nets saw Los Angeles cut a 13-point fourth quarter lead to two with 3:50 remaining, but Brooklyn hit big shots and showed the defensive intensity necessary to close out the win.
Another revelation during the streak is Brooklyn’s two wins on the road in the back end of back-to-backs. While both of those wins were against bottom feeders in the New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls Bulls, the win in New York snapped a 33-game losing streak in those contests.
The Nets’ recent success comes absent a true star player on the roster. However, the scrappy play and team chemistry Brooklyn exhibits, along with future cap space, has those around the league buzzing.
Stephen A. Smith spoke of how two superstars would fit into Brooklyn’s roster on his podcast.
"“I’m thinking about a team with stars, two megastars, and I’m thinking, well how does this fit? Brooklyn has the personnel for it to fit.”."
This summer’s free agent class will feature the likes of Kevin Durant and Kemba Walker, with Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving and Jimmy Butler all likely to decline player options for next season to hit the market, as well.
An unnamed Nets assistant was spotted having dinner with Kawhi Leonard when the Raptors were in Brooklyn, according to Smith.
Free agents are attracted to winning. If Brooklyn can make their way into the Eastern Conference playoffs, it will not go unnoticed next summer. The playoffs are a real possibility for the Nets, who are a half-game games out of eighth place, 1½ back of seventh and two out of sixth.
Following signing Spencer Dinwiddie to a contract extension, Brooklyn is projected to have just $19 million in cap space, factoring in $28.5 in cap holds for D’Angelo Russell and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson as well as a pair of first-round picks.
If Russell and Hollis-Jefferson are renounced, the Nets’ space would jump to $46 million.
Russell has shown significant improvement this season and his continued development, both physically and mentally, may be enough to convince Marks he should invest in the 22-year-old long term.
If this becomes the case, Marks could look to offload Allen Crabbe‘s egregious $18.5 million player option for next season.
To do this, Brooklyn would likely have to find a rebuilding team and attach draft compensation, such as Denver’s 2019 first-round pick, in exchange for an expiring contract.
The Bulls are rumored to be shopping Jabari Parker, who has a team option next season at $20 million. Chicago may be willing to swap Parker with Crabbe and pay the final year of Crabbe’s contract in exchange for Denver’s pick.
While there are still plenty of games to be played, the Nets have the look of a team whose players understand their roles and are having fun fulfilling them.
That, along with the allure of New York City, a potential playoff birth and cap space, may be enough to catch the eye of big-time free agents.
Brooklyn’s recent success is changing the perception of the organization. As Stephen A. said:
"“The Brooklyn Nets, it is time that we start showing them more respect.”"
The Nets are playing some of the best basketball in the league right now and they’re clearly enjoying the ride.