Over the last few years but more recently the last two, the Brooklyn Nets have been one of the biggest laughing stocks in the NBA. Due to a trade that will go down in history as one of the worst ever, the Nets have been on a downward spiral the likes of which only get rivaled by the Sixers’ tanking. However, there is a new sheriff in the front office and on the bench and this combination has begun to slowly but surely drag the Brooklyn Nets out of the gutter.
You can’t talk about the current state of the Brooklyn Nets without mentioning the trade that will live in infamy. Back in 2012 the Brooklyn Nets traded away Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, MarShon Brooks, Kris Joseph, Keith Bogans and three first round draft picks (2014, 2016 and 2018), as well as the right to swap first round picks in 2017 to Boston for Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry and D.J. White. This trade was executed by then Nets GM Billy King who may go down as one of the worst in franchise history. In hindsight, anyone could tell you that this was a very lopsided trade, however at the time one could see why it was made. The Nets had just moved to Brooklyn, had an eccentric owner who had a win now mentality, Jay-Z was basically the face of the franchise and they had to now compete with being in the same city as the New York Knicks. The Nets needed a spark and a crowd drawer and bringing in a pair of future hall of famers to help contend for a title seemed like the best option. But when you step back and look at it from a distance the whole thing seemed like a futile effort from a contending standpoint. At that point in time the Big 3 in Miami were basically unbeatable to anyone from the East. The Celtics and their big 3 came close the first year the Miami super team was put together but fell short. Theoretically bringing in guys that knew how to challenge the super team was a good idea. But all the veterans could do was help Brooklyn get a 1st round win against the Raptors in the 2013 playoffs before being swept by Miami. Over the next two years both KG and Pierce would become ex-Nets leaving through trade to the Timberwolves and Wizards. After that the Nets would make the playoffs one more time in 2015 before finally hitting rock bottom.
The Nets reached the ultimate low last season finishing with an abysmal 18-64 record which was dead last in the NBA. The year prior the Nets didn’t fair too much better, with a 21-61 record finishing only ahead of the Sixers for the worst record in the league. This type of mediocrity isn’t something brand new to the Nets in recent years but it certainly isn’t something that has been the norm. The last time the Nets were collectively this bad they were still in New Jersey, where they finished 12-70. The recent string of failure would’ve been much more tolerable if the Nets had their draft picks. However, the Boston Celtics have owned the Nets high draft picks for the past 4 years including two lottery picks. The Celtics ended up using those picks to draft Jaylen Brown in 2016 and Jayson Tatum in this past draft. The Celtics have been able to use the Nets picks (along with the surplus of other picks Danny Ainge has acquired) to rebuild their team and get back to their winning ways from when Pierce and KG were still wearing green. With the addition of Isaiah Thomas the Celtics made it to the Eastern Conference Finals while the Nets sat in misery at the bottom of the division, conference and league.
But, much like almost everything in life, nothing lasts forever and so too is that true for the Nets’ franchise woes. Last season the Nets made two important hires. The first was hiring Sean Marks to be the team’s GM. The second was hiring Kenny Atkinson to be the head coach. For Kenny Atkinson, he comes in highly regarded. He was the assistant coach under Mike Budenholzer of the Atlanta Hawks who have recently had some pretty good regular season and postseason success. Atkinson also has some Spurs connections as Budenholzer was an assistant under coach Pop before becoming a head coach. He ran the Hawks much like how the Spurs were run. In fact many called the Hawks the Spurs of the East because it was a team consisting of one star and a bunch of role players. If there was one thing the Nets have struggled with since moving to Brooklyn it has been head coaching. Since the move back in 2012 the Nets have had 5 different head coaches which included the likes of Avery Johnson, Jason Kidd and Lionel Hollins. Many of these hires seemed to be just quick fixes with no long term plan. Kidd left because the Nets were unwilling to give him the position of president of basketball operations on top of his head coaching job. With Atkinson the Nets are getting a determined and hard-working coach. He is known as a guard developer, most recently helping Denis Schroeder go from bench player to starting point guard. Atkinson now has a plethora of guards at his disposal including D’Angelo Russell and Jeremy Lin. And although this past season for the Nets was hard to watch at times there’s no denying that Atkinson had his guys out there fighting every game.
Once Billy King was relieved of his duties, literally anyone would be an improvement. But Sean Marks is different. Marks was born to be a GM in this league. Originally from New Zealand, the 6’10 forward played over a decade in the NBA as a role player. Before taking the Nets General Manager job, Marks was an assistant coach under Gregg Popovich with the Spurs for three years and then an assistant GM for one year under the great R.C. Buford. If there was one organization you wanted to get an executive or coach from it’s the Spurs. The Spurs are one of the best run organizations in all of sports which made picking Marks a no brainer. On top of being assistant GM Marks was also GM of San Antonio’s D-League team (now G-League). Marks has wasted no time in putting his fingerprints all over the Nets. Last offseason he was busy trying to acquire decent talent as opposed to trying to make the big blockbuster free agent signing. Even with failed attempts at acquiring Tyler Johnson and Allen Crabbe it showed that Marks wasn’t just going to sit idle. He ended up bringing in Jeremy Lin who not only is a solid point guard in the league but also has a strong pull with the Asian fan base in the NBA. He knows that it’s going to be a process and hasn’t gone out trying to make a big splash. The biggest splash Marks made came this off season when he traded away long time Brooklyn Net Brook Lopez to the Lakers for Timofey Mozgov and D’Angelo Russell. Aside from that trade the Nets have also been in contention for quite a few notable free agents including Washington’s Otto Porter. The Wizards ended up matching the $106M dollar offer sheet for Porter. What Marks did was put out an offer so high that the Wizards had to match. And with all that money going to Porter, the Wizards are now unable to give the big bucks to a potential free agent in next year’s off season. The unseen aspects of what Marks has been doing is exactly what the Nets need as an organization to turn the ship around.
With the addition of Russell the Nets now have over 5 players under the age of 23. This youth movement in Brooklyn is just one of the many changes happening for the Nets. The culture is changing in Brooklyn and it’s building up some excitement amongst the fan base again. New York is desperate for some basketball success and with the circus act that is the Knicks, the Nets have the perfect opportunity to bring back some of that basketball allure.
Although the Nets are still a year or two away from actually competing, the steps they’ve taken the last year and a half show that they’re on the right track. And with a competent GM and determined coach, it won’t be long until it’s not only Nets fans chanting “BROOOOOOOKLYN!”