The Brooklyn Nets sit with the fourth-best record in the NBA and are the NBA championship favorites this season. They are led by three all-stars and a tremendous amount of depth through crucial role players. But, just five years ago, they were sitting in the cellar of the NBA standings with not much salary cap, no draft picks, and not a lot of hope.
In 2013, the newly rebranded Brooklyn Nets went for it all by acquiring future Hall of Famers Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett and veteran Jason Terry from the Boston Celtics. The deal made sense for both sides as Pierce and KG’s championship window seemed as if it had closed in Boston. They just lost in six in the first round of the playoffs to a New York Knick team led by their new face of the franchise, Carmelo Anthony. The Nets managed to bring in three former all-stars, with championship experience for four bench players and three first-round picks. It seemed like they got away with highway robbery, or so we thought..
Next season, the new-look Nets hired future Hall of Famer Jason Kidd as their coach and fought their way to a 44-38 record, good enough for a fourth-place finish in the East. Brooklyn defeated the Raptors in seven games but then was made quick work of by the Miami Heat in 5 games. Jason Kidd was removed from coaching duties after one season, and in the next year, things only got worse.
They went 38-44 after trading an injured Kevin Garnett at the deadline for an abysmal return compared to what they gave up for him. They snuck into the playoffs as the eighth seed and managed to take two games from the number one seed Atlanta Hawks but ended the season with nothing but a first-round exit.
Pierce left the team in free agency, and Joe Johnson had been waived, officially leaving the Brooklyn Nets in a pretzel. Brooklyn turned in a 21-61 season and had the third-worst record in the NBA. Their draft pick wound up at #3, but of course, it was in the Boston Celtics’ hands who took Jaylen Brown. The young high flying guard out of the University of California, Berkeley, was a future all-star the Nets watched slipped right from under their fingertips.
In the following season, the Nets won one less game and finished dead last in the NBA. But this season was a little different for Brooklyn. They hired Kenny Atkinson as their head coach to start the attempt to try and revive the franchise. Young players were acquired and given more prominent roles to try and find some gems in their roster, and it worked. The likes of Caris Levert, Joe Harris, and Spencer Dinwiddie were starting to find their footsteps in the Nets system, finally giving the fans some promise.
Another year, another top 3 draft pick that ended up in the hands of the Boston Celtics. The Nets’ pick won the lottery, and the Celtics moved back two picks to take another guy you might have heard of named Jayson Tatum. But, Brooklyn had acquired two first-round picks and needed to make a significant impact on the roster. First, they took Jarrett Allen with the #22 pick, a shot-blocking center out of Texas who would play pivotal minutes for the franchise. Then, at #27 selected Kyle Kuzma out of Utah but quickly flipped him and Brook Lopez to the Lakers for D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov.
Russell was the #2 pick just two years ago and seemed just to need a switch of scenery to kickstart his career. Although he struggled with injuries in his first year with the new team, the squad did improve their record from last season for the first time since the Pierce and KG trade; things were starting to look up in Brooklyn. They finished with seven players averaging double-digit points per game and had the makeup of a hungry team who had nothing to lose. The final draft pick from the trade was in the Cleveland Cavaliers’ hands as part of the Kyrie Irving trade, where they selected Collin Sexton at #8. Finally, the worst trade in franchise history was behind them.
The following season, D’Angelo Russell came out with something to prove to the whole world. He only missed one game all year and managed to earn his first-ever all-star appearance while averaging just over 21 ppg. The Nets finished two games over .500 behind and were among the more fun teams in the NBA to watch because of their “nothing to lose” attitude. Dinwiddie, Harris, Levert, and Allen all made significant steps during the season as the Nets started to form one of the best benches in the NBA, known for their talent and dance moves. But, were made quick work of in 5 games in the first round of the playoffs to the 76ers.
In the off-season, the Nets had a ton of cap and were left with a tough decision. Should Brooklyn keep their squad from last year or go for it all with some big-name free agents? Boy, did they go for it all. They signed both Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant to max contracts, and the Nets were finally championship contenders again.
Although Irving and Durant never saw the court together in the first year of their contracts, the team still managed to make the playoffs behind their depth through Levert, Dinwiddie, and Harris. It seemed as if they were signing players off the street for their playoff series in the bubble; the team just couldn’t get away from the injury bug all season.
The Nets then hired Hall of Famer Steve Nash to be their bench boss for the hopeful championship season, but they still missed one piece. The opportunity to acquire a former MVP doesn’t come around very often, especially when he is begging to leave his former team. On January 13th, the Nets moved to acquire James Harden from the Rockets in a blockbuster four-team trade where they did have to give up key bench players in Caris Levert and Jarrett Allen, but it was an opportunity that the Nets couldn’t turn down.
Present-day, the Nets just signed another former all-star Blake Griffin, and it seems as if I’m reliving the movie Avengers: Infinity War. All of the infinity stones fit together to conquer the world and win an NBA Championship. With just under two months left in the regular season, Brooklyn sits in second place in the Eastern Conference and has the best betting odds to win the championship right now. A little bit of good health and some solid team chemistry, and this could be the squad to bring the Larry O’Brien to Brooklyn.