The Brooklyn Nets ranked 12th in ESPN’s first post-Finals Power Rankings, did they undermine the team’s talent or was this right on the money?
Quite a leap from where the team was perceived in the NBA hierarchy just a season ago, isn’t it? The Brooklyn Nets’ offseason saw major changes in the roster, they lost their 23-year-old All-Star, D’Angelo Russell, rotation pieces such as Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Allen Crabbe, and Jared Dudley but added in the likes Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Taurean Waller-Prince, and DeAndre Jordan, amongst others.
It was a busy offseason for Sean Marks and company, just as it was for many front offices across the league. Star movement has become the norm, seemingly every summer we see more and more of the NBA’s brightest talents leaving their current organization for “apparent” greener pastures.
Culture in full swing
Marks and Atkinson have done a marvelous job in transforming how the Nets are looked at by the remainder of the league. Their culture is infectious, for the first time in what has felt like an eternity for fans of the franchise they’re not only serious contenders for major players in the free-agent market—but contenders in general.
They have a medical staff revered by the league, the way they develop their young talent is remarkable, their “team first” identity is one that is often preached by many but executed by few. The framework was already in place before they pursued KD or Kyrie Irving and that should be acknowledged.
KD’s injury and current roster
Had it not been for Kevin Durant‘s injury, they’d probably be much higher, but that’s not the world we live in. If all goes according to plan and the medical staff believes he’s ready to play, we could see him next spring, or we might have to wait a full NBA season until he steps foot into action at the Barclays Center. Father time is the only entity with answers regarding that Achilles at the moment.
However, the roster at hand still poses a threat to the rest of the Eastern Conference and the article illustrated that by ranking the Nets 5th in the east.
Kyrie Irving will be reunited with former Cavaliers teammate, Joe Harris, in the backcourt. Harris led the league last season in 3-point percentage (47.4) and overall had a very productive 64.5 percent TS%. Caris Levert has showcased his upside in the past but nagging injuries have derailed his progression.
He missed significant time last season after a gruesome-looking ankle injury but next season has a chance to fully find his rhythm back and could be in line for a breakout campaign. Rodions Kurucs started 46 games last year and showed Atkinson and the coaching staff as a rookie that he should be a vital piece moving forward.
It isn’t just the addition of Irving and Durant, the team has tremendous depth. Dzanan Musa had a great summer league, Taurean Prince will provide beneficial minutes in this rotation, Jarrett Allen and DeAndre Jordan will likely stagger minutes, or not—Atkinson could go Twin Towers for stretches.
Spencer Dinwiddie has emerged in the NBA, Garrett Temple is a savvy veteran who will help guide the locker room, same applies for Wilson Chandler. Then there are players who are still very much so raw in their development like Theo Pinson, Jaylen Hands, and Nicolas Claxton but could serve as surprises next season.
This team is deep, got a nice combination of youth with established veterans—they’re going to be competitive even without the presence of Durant.
How will Kyrie lead?
The issues of the 2018-19 Boston Celtics were well documented, many scrutinized Kyrie Irving for his leadership qualites or lack thereof. The same people question how Kyrie Irving is going to lead this locker room, pointing out similarities to the Nets and the Celtics.
Look, it’s no secret that Boston and Irving weren’t a match made in Heaven, and some of the blame does fall on his shoulders. He could’ve conducted himself better in some situations but when you’re an outspoken individual playing for a big market sports franchise some sound bytes will occur.
"“The way that he’s construed in the media is probably going to paint him in a light that is not necessarily true. I’d say you could ask a lot of people that played with him and they’d all say that he’s a great team-mate and a good guy to be around.”"
The narrative on Kyrie Irving in the locker room might be negative at the moment, but that doesn’t mean he can’t flip the script in Brooklyn.
Given the circumstances in Boston and how he’s perceived by many he could enter his next season with a chip on his shoulder, wanting desperately to prove the naysayers wrong and shed that narrative. Kyrie Irving on a mission could be terrifying for the other 14 teams out east.
With the roster at hand, the Nets finishing 5th in the east is reasonable, the newcomers have to get accustomed to playing with each other and Atkinson and company have to find a system/rotation that works.
However, if Durant returns at some point next season, Larry O’Brien is also within the realm of possibility for Brooklyn.