The state of New York basketball is very sad. Super sad. Not “fiance leaves you at alter” sad or “lost a winning lotto ticket sad.” Hell, it ain’t even “they don’t have this fleeked up blazer in my size” type of sad– because you can’t get but so sad about a kids game, played by a bunch of exceptionally tall millionaires (for the most part). But still, New York basketball is not in good shape.
Which brings us to the Brooklyn Nets. They came to Brooklyn full of proclamations on winning now, playing for a championship and bringing a banner to Barclays Center in five years. But now in their third season in the county of Kings, and on its third coach, those news headlines are proving to be nothing but a pipe dream. Not for nothing, but the Russian promised a rose garden, but lean a little bit closer and see that roses really smell like poo-poo.
So in the NBA, it’s best to be either a winner or a clear cut loser, and since the Nets were losing, it would normally make sense to stink it up like the New York Knicks and get in position to have a really good draft. Building a team through the draft and augmenting the home grown talent with savvy acquisitions is the hallmark of good teams like the San Antonio Spurs, who have used that recipe to the tune of 5 NBA championships.
If getting that chip, raising that Larry O’Brien trophy over your head, is out of the range of possibilities, then teams should probably fail miserably. Stink it up to get in position for the draft, as a lottery draft selection can help turn around a franchise. Picks like Dwayne Wade, Timmy Duncan, Lebron James, John Wall or Kevin Durant are examples of players that were drafted and helped turn around their previously moribund franchises.
Before the All-Star break, the Nets were looking pitiful for sure. Back in week 13, they lost back-to-back games by 39 and 35 points respectively, which was only the 5th time in NBA history a team lost by 35+ points in back-to-back games, and they were also besieged with injuries across the lineup.
But after the All-Star break, Lopez and Williams were both healthy. The Brooklyn Nets started showing signs of being a decent team, and they now find themselves in the 7th seed in the eastern conference playoff picture. The addition of Thaddeus Young has been a real boon to the team, but the rebound was exemplified by, well, rebounds; and more specifically by the resurgent play of center Brook Lopez, who started rebounding like the beefy 7 footer that he is. Brook has won the last two Eastern Conference Player of the Week Awards and has been rebounding and scoring the ball at a career best rate, but what does it all really mean?
If the Nets were going to pick a season to stank, (I just made that up; portmanteau of stink and tank) it should be this season, when they actually have first- and second-round picks in the draft, though they made so many wacky trades for aging and ineffective players, that it’s difficult to figure out their draft future without a statistics degree from Harvard.
I know that they ransomed part of their future, by sending away future draft picks to Boston in the trade for the Garnett, Pierce and Terry geriatric group and also sent out picks in the Joe Johnson, Mehmet Okur and Deron Williams trades. They deal draft picks with the fervor of a trap house, which has been their calling card since moving to the Barclays Center. Their payroll and luxury tax bill makes the Steinbrenner’s blush, and their salary cap is apparently being managed by Peter Griffin from Family Guy.
They have two of the most untradeable contracts in the league, with Deron Williams and Joe Johnson both earning roughly $21 and $24 million dollars respectively, for the 2015-2016 season. I’ll highlight the insanity of those contracts with contract comparisons; D-Will’s salary is bigger than Stephen Curry’s salary and it’s also bigger than Russell Westbrook’s salary. Joe Johnson makes more than both Lebron James and Kevin Durant.
Joe Johnson’s contract is from the previous collective bargaining agreement, but it was a ridiculous signing back in 2010 and just looks worse with each passing season. Joe Johnson’s contract needs its own hashtag situation, like #JoeJohnsonsContract. He can’t be knocked totally because his slow-motion game has proven to be effective, it’s just that his game’s effectiveness is nowhere near commensurate with his salary. He would need to have LeBron James type numbers for his contract to make any kind of sense. Yeah, he has the clutch gene, but that’s one expensive-ass gene!
In the Eastern Conference of the NBA, bad teams always make the playoffs and since making the playoffs is the watermark of a successful season, Eastern Conference teams can drink the Kool Aid and maybe pat themselves on the back for getting to the post season. But that’s just a result of the NBA’s playoff format that doesn’t reward the best teams overall, but uses a conference system to determine teams that move on past the regular season.
So the teams in the 7th and 8th seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs are never very good and get their below mediocrity play rewarded with a series against a 1 or 2 seed and as expected, those lower seeds very rarely win against the higher seeds and often get run out of the gym. Now granted, if the Nets roll into the playoffs still hot, they might be the type of 7th seed no team wants to face, but it’s a seven game series and 7 games series usually favors the better team, as opposed to an elimination tournament, where one well played game can get a team to the next round.
If Brook Lopez keeps improving and Deron Williams can get back to any semblance of his previous, Utah Jazz self and Joe Johnson can at least maintain his current level of play, perhaps throwing down a dunk once a month just for shits and giggles, then the Brooklyn Nets MIGHT be a 6th seed team. If Teletovic returns from the blood clots in his lungs and plays back to form and Plumlee can step it up another level, then the team might become a top-5 team in the Eastern Conference. But growth is not guaranteed in a league rife with average players.
The Nets need to be a top-3 team in the east and I’m not sure if the roster, as currently built, can sniff that type of rare air. The Russian talked about winning big, and I’m still sticking with those expectations, even though he has the team on the market and might not be the owner next season.
So even if we creep into the playoffs and get whacked by the Cleveland Cavaliers, I won’t consider it a successful season. Successful seasons end, at least, in the conference championship series and if the Brooklyn Nets ain’t doing that, I don’t think they’re living up to what Mr. Prokhorov promised, which was a rose garden… but lean a little bit closer and see that roses really smell like poo-pooooooo.