What if I told you that this NBA season actually means a lot for the Brooklyn Nets despite the fact they are without Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant? Coming into this season the Nets had low expectations considering that they were going to be without Kevin Durant for the entire season. Ultimately, this season was considered a throw away, with the focus on developing their young players and then competing for a championship next season when both Kyrie and KD would be 100% healthy.
This season for Brooklyn got ugly early as Kyrie wound up missing 26 games after their first game against the Minnesota Timberwolves due to a right shoulder injury. Irving came back in January and caused some friction in the Brooklyn locker room when he publicly questioned the setup of the roster after a 117-106 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on January 15th. “I mean, it’s transparent. It’s out there. It’s glaring, in terms of the pieces that we need in order to be at that next level,” Irving said. “I’m going to continue to reiterate it. We’re going to do the best with the guys that we have in our locker room now, and we’ll worry about all the other stuff, in terms of moving pieces and everything else, as an organization down the line in the summer. It’s just something that we signed up for. We knew what we were coming into at the beginning of this season. Guys were going down left and right. Garrett Temple is out, DeAndre Jordan just got hurt Wednesday, Wilson Chandler is coming back [from suspension]. We’ve got complimentary young guys, as well, that have done a great job the last three years. Collectively, I feel like we have great pieces, but it’s pretty glaring we need one more piece or two more pieces that will compliment myself, Kevin Durant, Jordan, Temple, Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert, and we’ll see how that evolves.”
Kyrie’s comments started the speculation of the Nets possibly trying to add a third star to pair with Kyrie and KD. Irving didn’t have a leg to stand on in criticizing the rest of the roster though, considering he had just come back from an injury and wound up missing the rest of the season as he underwent season ending surgery on February 20th on his shoulder. On top of that, Brooklyn wound up having a better record when Kyrie was out at 13-13 as opposed to a 5-7 record with Kyrie.
To add gasoline on top of the fire, the Nets parted ways with head coach Kenny Atkinson on March 7th, a day after beating the San Antonio Spurs while surprisingly sitting at the 7th seed only six games below .500 at 28-34. However, Atkinson reportedly stepped down because the players were fed up with his offense and wanted a bigger name to take them to the promise land, specifically Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. This put into question who was really running the show? Was it general manager Sean Marks? Or, was it the star players in Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant?
If that wasn’t enough drama for you, there’s more. Spencer Dinwiddie took to Instagram on May 15th that he was trying to raise $25 million on GoFundMe, which would have allowed fans to choose where he would sign a one-year deal when he became a free agent after the 2020-2021 season. So, how much did Dinwiddie really want to be in Brooklyn if he was already searching around for which team to sign with in 2021, while he was still under contract with the Nets? Dinwiddie only raised $1,150 which he eventually donated to charity. While he claimed that he was just trying to have some fun and raise some money during a global pandemic, it still didn’t send the best message to the Brooklyn Nets on his desire to be in Brooklyn.
As the Nets now enter the NBA bubble in Orlando, they show up with a newly constructed roster as a majority of their players either opted out or tested positive for COVID-19 including: DeAndre Jordan, Spencer Dinwiddie, Wilson Chandler, Nic Claxton and Taurean Prince. Brooklyn filled those spots with: Jamal Crawford, Tyler Johnson ,Lance Thomas and Donta Hall. The Nets originally signed Michael Beasley as a substitute player for the restart, but quickly had to end his contract after he tested positive for COVID inside the bubble in Orlando before even getting his feet wet with the Nets. Brooklyn filled the empty roster spot with Justin Anderson.
There are two big questions for the Nets as they ramp back up with the season. Can interim coach Jaque Vaughn do enough to make a strong enough case to make him the full time head coach after only coaching two games before the season shut down? Of course, the results will play a role in the decision. In talking to the Brian Geltzeiler, founder of hoopscritic.com, NBA Radio insider and frequent contributor to NBA TV, he believes it will be very difficult for Vaughn to be promoted to the full time head coaching position, “Between the owner, Sean Marks, Durant, and Kyrie, there’s a lot of input and short of a very surprising playoff performance I think Vaughn will likely be replaced.” However, a bigger factor will be Vaughn’s relationship with Kyrie and KD. On the other hand, Brooklyn Nets radio analyst Tim Capstraw, said he believes Vaughn has a good shot at remaining the head coach, “The players really like and respect him.” It is important to note that Mark Jackson, Jason Kidd and Ty Lue have drawn interest from the Nets already.
The other big question surrounding Brooklyn is their quest to find a third star to pair with Kyrie Irving and Durant. The Nets have already reportedly had internal discussions about a trade package to acquire Bradley Beal from the Washington Wizards. Now that Brooklyn reconstructed their roster for the restart, this bubble will put the spotlight on both Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen. Since both Dinwiddie and Irivng are out, LeVert becomes the focal point of this Nets squad. Levert had already shown some flashes during the scrimmages as he had 27 parents vs San Antonio and 23 points against Utah. If LeVert can keep his production up then it will only raise his trade value. Jarrett Allen will also be a big trade chip for Brooklyn to acquire a third star. Allen is the only center on the roster since both Jordan and Claxton are out, and is averaging a career high 9.6 rebounds per game, up from 8.4 last season. On top of that, Allen is shooting a career high 64.6% and averaging 10.6 points per game. Both Allen and LeVert’s production will play a big role in the Nets pursuit of a third star. Geltzeiler went on to explain how it is very likely that Brooklyn will trade for a third star if one becomes available, “Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen make a very attractive trade package and ultimately, Durant and Kyrie are pushing to play with a more established star.” Brian also threw out the possibility of what happens there are no big stars available, expect for the New Orleans Pelicans making Jrue Holiday available, and whether the Nets would bite at that opportunity. On the other hand, Capstraw believes that the Nets will stay put in the offseason because they already own a good third star in LeVert.
While the Nets had low expectations this season, it wound up turning into a drama filled year from Kyrie publicly criticizing the roster to his injury fiasco, Kenny Atkinson getting fired mid season and now the Orlando bubble turning into a vital time for Sean Marks to evaluate their two big trade chips in Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen to try to acquire a third star to pair with Kyrie and KD.