The Brooklyn Nets are an embarrassment
The Brooklyn Nets are 1-5, with a net rating that makes even the Los Angeles Lakers look at them with pity. Their No. 30 defense looks desperate. The offense that was supposed to be his saving grace is statistically average and aesthetically tepid. from brooklyn starting five stinkers and their depth is too young or one-dimensional to contribute positively on either end.
Thanks to a very thin front track, the Nets rank last in defensive rebounding rate and can’t use Ben Simmons (more on him later) at the 5 as much as they probably should. When playing next to another big who doesn’t shoot, Brooklyn’s spacing is compromised. But while moving Simmons to center may loosen things up, doing so will exacerbate the team’s biggest weaknesses on the other end.
It’s a frustrating squad despite the big names. On paper, they can make a deep playoff run. In reality, they are the basketball equivalent of George Costanza braving the winter cold with a Russian sable hat while leaving aside the importance of a coat. To put this mess into perspective: Kevin Durant is averaging 32 points per game, making more than half of his shots and posting a higher usage rate. He’s also minus-67 in 225 minutes. That’s it for this season fifth-worst plus/minus, among 436 players who qualify.
If these problems sound like a lot, they are. But compared to the unresolved chemistry and identity issues that arise from Brooklyn’s willingness to be led by three highly volatile and unstable superstar personalities, they also seem peripheral.
Kyrie Irving, once known primarily as a basketball virtuoso with a lot of talent, can now be more accurately described as a rude and incoherent provocateurnot only prone to believe in all the conspiracies he absorbs online, but motivated to share them with his millions of followers, regardless of how beliefs can be unfounded or harmful. Saturday, while answering questions about his decision to tweet a link to the 2018 documentary Hebrews to Blacks: Awaken Black Americaa film that endorses anti-Semitic messages, it was antagonistic and challenging.
“I’m not going to give up on anything I believe in,” Irving said. “I’m only going to get stronger because I’m not alone. I have a whole army around me.” It’s hard to take any NBA franchise taking him seriously right now.
How the Nets got here, such an embarrassment on and off the court, may be hard to digest, but it’s easy to understand. They’ve gone through so many different iterations since Durant and Irving first got on board and set fire to the culture of sacrifice that attracted them in the first place. The initial James Harden trade was a seismic deal that set the wheels in motion, costing Brooklyn three first-round picks, four pick trades, Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen (painfully ideal for these Nets), Taurean Prince and Rodions Kurucs.
The first returns led to, literally, the greatest offense in NBA history: an unprotected superteam that seemed destined to float down Flatbush Avenue, chewing unlit cigars and passing the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Instead, horrible luck hit hard in the 2021 playoffs: Harden sprained his hamstring, Irving sprained his ankle landing on Giannis Antetokounmpo’s foot, Durant’s. the toe cost them what would have been a series-clinching pointand the Nets were eliminated by the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks in seven games.
Months later, Harden decided to seek greener grass in Philadelphia in part because Irving convinced himself. that life-saving vaccine mandates are unfair and I couldn’t play. So the Nets traded Harden for a weakened Simmons and then got swept in the first round. Fast forward to three months ago when, in a dysfunctional crowning coup, Durant followed through on one of the most aggressive trade requests in NBA history. asking Nets owner Joe Tsai to fire his head coach and general manager. He didn’t do it. Nor did Tsai trade Durant. And now here are the Nets: aging, small, fresh off trade assets and overly reliant on a talented trio of injury-prone malcontents, in a more competitive conference than a year ago.
Things are bleak, but they’re not over. However. There is still reason for optimism, albeit with some caveats and wishful thinking. Joe Harris and Seth Curry are back on the court, but still not 100% recovered from their respective ankle surgeries. As two of the most accurate 3-point shooters to ever live, both matter, even if neither offers a firm solution to the team’s defensive woes. TJ Warren has yet to adjust, and it’s unclear when he will (he’s logged zero NBA minutes since December 29, 2020), if ever.
Simmons is one key figure in all this, six games to restart a career that was derailed by back pain and mental anguish. He looks like a shell of his old self, rarely looking at the basket, let alone attacking it like he used to. According to Second Spectrum, Simmons is averaging 3.5 drives per game. In 2021, it was 9.27. In 2018? 15.58.
A half-assed assessment would be that he’s too committed to carving out a selfless role alongside Durant and Irving, and there might be a kernel of truth to that. Simmons has nearly doubled his previous career high in screens per 100 possessions, per second spectrumwhich is a good sign for a team that needs him to be active off the ball.
But the Nets need him to be more of the physical, aggressive presence he was. Their passivity is harmful, not altruistic. Taking 5.7 shots per game with a turnover rate that exceeds twice its use won’t cut it. He also won’t convert just 45.5 percent of his 2-point shots and 46.7 percent of his free throws. During a recent loss to Dallas, Simmons was fouled below the rim and several Mavericks he tried to convince the referee that it was time to shoot. (It wasn’t.)
Much of what Simmons does is too safe, without the risk that made his idiosyncrasy so dangerous in Philadelphia. Today’s Simmons is ordinary, even boring. Anyone can hit Durant with a chest pass while rolling a screen down. Now, again, it’s early. Without becoming a prisoner of the moment, there’s always the possibility that Simmons will embrace an expanded role and realize he’s always faster or stronger than anyone he’s come up against. Perhaps their elite on-ball defense will return as well.
Overall, patience is key. So is the calendar. Brooklyn’s loss Saturday night against the rebuilding Pacers was, according to Steve Nash, “disaster.” He also brought to the team first “players only” meeting of the season, and it’s always a great sign when that happens before Halloween. But the Nets have also split the third toughest roster in the league so far. These are reasons to be optimistic about a situation that currently does not deserve it. The next steps are unknown but far-reaching. Maybe Sean Marks will bolster the frontcourt by signing Dwight Howard or DeMarcus Cousins. Maybe Irving will be cut in a week.
The most entertaining fake trade ever since news of KD’s unhappiness first broke it’s a straight star trade: Durant for Anthony Davis. The Nets would get a younger man who can improve their defense and maybe even one day resemble the megastar he was a couple of years ago. The Lakers would have someone who can (really) shoot, complement LeBron James, and not be bothered by the roster’s complete and utter indifference to spacing. No deal can solve the myriad flaws of either team, but the options are limited and the stalemate is the same, a bettera play-in fool’s gold appearance.
However, some things in life are not worth saving. Firing Nash won’t lift anyone’s spirits or allow someone else to come in, wave a magic wand and implement defensive principles. The Nets are probably too expensive to exploit, but how valuable can any investment be if all it does is bleed misery? Maybe, despite being below all these future elections, starting over isn’t the worst way to go. It’s not like we haven’t seen this movie before. Or maybe something less dramatic is on the cards. Or maybe no one knows what will happen in Brooklyn, where the Nets could lose or win 15 straight games and no one watching would forget.
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