The Brooklyn Nets could be the NBA’s biggest wildcard moving forward

Kevin Durant Golden State Warriors (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)
Kevin Durant Golden State Warriors (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The Brooklyn Nets are a bit of a mystery at the moment. How will Kyrie Irving fit with their core? Will Kevin Durant return to form once fully recovered at age 32? They have the talent to contend for a title, but will they?

Sean Marks, Trajan Langdon (Ast. GM from ’16-19) and Kenny Atkinson have laid the framework down—completely reversing the downward path of the Brooklyn Nets in just three years.

If not for their efforts this organization wouldn’t be in the situation they’re in today, which is as contenders to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy in the near future. They have the talent to do it, but so have many teams of the past—unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

There are a number of teams in the NBA that are going to be in contention for a championship in the upcoming years, the road to a title is not going to be easy. Blitzing through the Eastern Conference will be troubling and if you were to represent the east in the NBA Finals, the juggernauts out west will be there waiting for you.

This is a fanbase that knows that all too well, the Nets at the dawn of the millennium appeared in back to back NBA Finals just to lose in crushing fashion once they got there. Their first appearance was as a sacrificial lamb to a superpowered Lakers team looking to cement their place in history by finishing the three-peat.

The second appearance went a bit different, had it not been for Kenyon Martin‘s 3/23 shooting performance in Game 6, or the Spurs 19-0 run in the 4th quarter when the Nets were up 9, or Dikembe Mutumbo’s nagging wrist injury—perhaps the 2003 season concludes with a championship banner in the Meadowlands.

But that didn’t happen, the Spurs won their second title in five seasons while the Nets drift into mediocrity began. Since that season—counting the 2013 season would be a stretch—the franchise hasn’t been a legitimate contender in the NBA.

Now that’s changed, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant join a roster that is well-coached and well-balanced. They have an immensely talented superstar tandem and depth to boot; but again, it’s not quite that simple.

It’s likely, more than likely, that Kevin Durant misses the entire 2019/20 season rehabbing from his torn Achilles. Bringing him back prematurely and not seeing the entire injury recovery process through would be irresponsible and a move that would be out of character for this Nets medical staff.

His absence brings in a couple of questions regarding this roster.

1) How will Kyrie Irving fare has the de facto leader of the team?

Irving is going to have to exercise some demons from that overwhelmingly disappointing 2018/19 Celtics campaign. His leadership qualities, or lack thereof, were often under public scrutiny a season ago.

Did he do the best job of leading a young core and guiding them? Probably not, but he gets a shot at redemption with some already established veterans in the locker room this year.

If he plays at his usual all-star level and it translates to victories for the Nets, this won’t come under national media’s attention—but if the team struggles, all eyes will be planted on Kyrie.

The success of this team next year will depend on how they deal with controversy and cold spells, it could make or break them. The Nets have a system that preaches team unity and awareness, they’ve done a great job of that thus far but now they have expectations to succeed. Not allowing that to overwhelm them will be crucial.

Kyrie Irving appears ready to take on this next challenge in his career, he has the luxury of doing so in a place he calls “home” and alongside good friends and a positive culture. Those are all factors that can’t be understated from a human psychology standpoint.

He chose Brooklyn despite attention from other larger markets, this is where he wants to be. Last year should act as a learning experience for the 27-year-old, let’s see how he adjusts to prior mistakes in leading a locker room.

#2) Will KD return to form post-injury?

Kevin Durant has had a career worthy of a first-ballot hall of fame selection, despite being only 30-years-old. He’s been that great and it’s debatable that he was playing the best basketball of his career before he went down with an injury in the second round of the playoffs against the Houston Rockets.

Playoffs Per Game Table

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Generated 7/20/2019.

There will be those who debate that he shouldn’t have come back as early as he did or those who even question the decision making of the Golden State Warriors’ front office.

This is a man who is a basketball enthusiast, he loves the game, there was no way he was going to sit out and watch an NBA Finals elimination game if he thought he could have played. That passion and adoration for basketball that he possesses is an underrated aspect of his game.

The injury he sustained is historically…unpleasant…to put it in subtle terms. Kobe Bryant infamously went down with a torn Achilles towards the latter of the 2012/13 season in a home game against the Golden State Warriors—which in turn signaled the beginning of the end of his illustrious career.

However, there are cases like Rudy Gay, who went down with a torn Achilles in the 2016/17 season and just finished the most productive season of his career this past season, despite his game predicating heavily on athleticism. Then there’s Dominique Wilkins, who posted this stat line a season after suffering an Achilles injury:

Per Game Table

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Generated 7/21/2019.

Nique was a different kind of human being, however. But it still serves as an example of a player who returned to form post-Achillies injury.

There haven’t been many players of Durant’s magnitude in NBA history, a 7-footer than can find offense however he wants. He doesn’t necessarily command the basketball in a half-court setting, moves well without the ball and is adept at picking his spots. He’s freakishly athletic, but he’s such a natural scorer that he can generate offense without relying solely on his physical abilities.

He’s an incredibly smart basketball player, his game was always going to age well; if there are limitations to what he can do physically—he’ll figure out other means to get his offense. He might not have as an explosive first step as he had pre-injury, but his shooting abilities won’t decline with age/injury.

Next. Eastern Conference standings predictions. dark

It’s going to be a long road to recovery but Nets fans should be optimistic, this is one of the most talented scorers the game has ever seen, he’ll figure it out. And once he does, the Brooklyn Nets are going to be a force to be reckoned with.