One of the saddest things in sports (aside from not having them at all…*sigh*) are players who never truly reach their ceiling. The Brooklyn Nets have had plenty of players fall short of their full potential, but which ones make the All-Time Team of “What-Ifs”?
In the trying times of COVID-19, we don’t really have too much to look forward to in sports anymore including watching our beloved Brooklyn Nets. What we do have left consists of NBA players shooting in their driveways, Madden Simulations (don’t ask me if I bet on this), re-runs of what seems like every game ever played, and looking back on the good times that we’ve had.
Unfortunately, the good times for Nets fans have been far and few between. That’s why today I’m looking back at all the good times that we could have had.
While the Nets don’t really have the accolades to show for it, the franchise has seen its fair share of talent come through the door. The big names are obvious – Dr.J, Buck Williams, J-Kidd, and so on. But this is an ode to the forgotten (or wasted) talents that never reached the heights that they seemingly should have.
Point Guard: Devin Harris
A fan favorite during his tenure, Devin Harris proved to be one of the only sources of hope during some very dark times for the Nets. Harris’s fearlessness and exciting style of play captivated Nets fans everywhere and was enough to earn him an All-Star selection in 2009 when he averaged 21.3 points, 7 assists, and 1.7 steals per game.
Harris provided some all-time memories for Nets fans and looked to be the next big star to lead the team. However, Harris faded away just as quickly as he emerged, capping off his Nets career in just 212 games over four seasons (never played more than 69 games in a single season).
Harris was ultimately shipped off in a trade for then-superstar Deron Williams. Seeing how lackluster D-Will’s tenure ended up being, it makes me wonder if the Nets would have been better off just developing Harris into the star he could have been.
Shooting Guard: Micheal Ray Richardson
Although his stint with the team was short-lived, Micheal Ray Richardson definitely made his impact felt on the Nets, averaging 16.1 points, 6.8 assists, 4.9 rebounds and 2.7 steals per game over four years.
1985: 38 points, 11 assists, 11 rebounds, 9 steals
1984: 10 points, 11 assists, 5 rebounds, 9 steals
1985: 20 points, 8 assists, 8 rebounds, 8 steals
1984: 14 points, 10 assists, 5 rebounds, 8 steals
1984: 13 points, 14 assists, 2 rebounds, 8 steals
1983: 14 points, 5 assists, 2 rebounds, 8 steals
1985: 27 points, 14 assists, 8 rebounds, 7 steals
1982: 15 points, 12 assists, 12 rebounds, 7 steals
1982: 28 points, 9 assists, 9 rebounds, 7 steals
In the fleeting career that he did have, Richardson managed to be a four-time NBA All-Star, two-time NBA First Team All-Defense, and even led the NBA in assists and steals one year.
Clearly, talent was never the issue at hand for Richardson. Like many players in the past, Richardson was blinded by distractions off the court. Courting women, hanging with the wrong people, making poor decisions and most importantly, doing drugs, became a regular part of life. Richardson was banned from the NBA in 1986 after violating the league’s drug policy for a third time, having played just 8 seasons and still clearly being able to produce.
Richardson’s career being cut short leaves a lot on the table and I truly wonder how awesome he could’ve been if he was already this great with everything going on off the court.
Small Forward: Drazen Petrovic
Dražen Petrović is one of the saddest stories in all of sports, let alone Nets history. Often dubbed the “Croatian Mozart”, Petrović played the game with a fiery passion, yet in beautifully smooth way. He was often praised for his extreme work ethic, opening the doors for future European NBA players, being a tremendous talent and overall, just having a great will to win.
Petrović didn’t really find success until he was traded to the Nets, where he averaged 19.5 points, 2.9 assists, 1.2 steals per game, and shot 44 percent from three (he still remains top-five in NBA all-time three-point percentage). This was only Dražen’s fourth season in the league before he tragically passed away, and it’s amazingly upsetting to think about how much more he would have progressed throughout the years.
How many times would he have been an All-Star? What records would he have broken? How far could he have taken the Nets? Would he have been Dirk before Dirk? These are just some things we’ll never know. For now, all we can do is enjoy these epic highlights of Petrović going toe-to-toe with Michael Jordan in his last season.
Power Forward – Yi Jianlian
Yi Jianlian had an incredibly strange NBA career – one that nobody was ever really able to ever figure out. GM’s across the league recognized Yi’s potential from the start, when he was picked 6th overall in 2007 Draft (to be fair it was a pretty terrible draft). A seven-footer who could move, post-up, stretch the floor… it was almost too good to be true.
If there was any bright spot in Yi’s career, it came during his time with the Nets. Yi averaged 10.2 points, 6.2 rebounds and shot 35 percent from three in his two seasons with the franchise, all before he turned 23.
However, between the mountain of expectations to be “the next Yao,” unfamiliarity with the culture, nagging injuries, lack of aggressiveness and overall disinterest in the game, Yi never panned out to be the player that he could have been.
The big man has gone on to have a pretty incredible career in the CBA, so I’m glad it worked out for him, but it would’ve been nice to see that on the Nets.
Center: Derrick Coleman
Usually, if you retire with career averages of 16.5 points, 9.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game, you deserve praise for a great run. Top that off with a Rookie of the Year, two All-NBA selections and one All-Star game, you’re feeling real good.
Unfortunately, you don’t get that privilege when you were as talented as Derrick Coleman. Coleman showed off his wide array of skills in his 5 seasons with the Nets – he was athletic, could bully you in the post, shoot with decent range, and handle the ball real well for a big man. In modern-day terms, think of DeMarcus Cousins.
However, constant issues like alcohol abuse, run-ins with the police, lack of effort and overall negative attitude hindered Coleman from becoming the all-time great that he was destined to be. Coleman was just 27 when the Nets shipped him off, but I would’ve loved to have seen what he could’ve accomplished with a more focused mindset.
Bench (Honorable Mentions)
Point Guard: Marcus Williams
A really gifted pass-first guard whose poor attitude and shooting ability lost him a spot in the league.
Shooting Guard: Anthony Morrow
People forget this man scored 42 in a game with the Nets. Could have been Joe Harris 1.0 if used properly.
Small Forward: Terrence Williams
An amazing athlete who could do a bit of everything, except lock-in. He had a triple-double as a rookie!
Power Forward: Mirza Teletović
A deadly stretch-4 that should be thriving in this modern NBA style. Plus he stood up to LeBron one time.
Center: Sean Williams
Anyone who watched this kid knew the massive potential he had on defense. Williams averaged 1.5 blocks in just 17.5 minutes per game as a rookie.