National Basketball Association
The Peach State
BROOKLYN NETS: Strike one; Strike two; Strike three and you're out... Is this Billy King's Flatbush Finale?
How bad would it have been had the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics qualified for the playoffs, and not the Nets? The answer, of course, is academic as the Nets open the playoffs this evening in Atlanta.
As a non-starter, however, this is the final season in which the Nets can fulfill their owner's manifest destiny, AKA - Mikhail Prokhorov's proclamation they'd win an NBA championship within five seasons upon assuming a control.
Give credit where it's due; sure. Since the Nets move from New Jersey, Brooklyn qualified for their third straight post-season in as many seasons. However, the situation along Flatbush Avenue has nevertheless deteriorated.
In Brooklyn's first season the Nets posted a fine 49-33 record, then lost a tightly contested 7-game opening round series against the Chicago Bulls. Last season, the Nets posted a 44-38 record. In the playoffs, they defeated the Atlantic Division winning Toronto Raptors in round one, then fell to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference semis.
This season, in a very weak Eastern Conference field, Brooklyn fell to a below par 38-44 record, and 3rd place in the Atlantic Division. They barely qualified for the post-season with a victory in their final regular season game (and with help from a Pacers loss). As the 8th seed, they will be in Atlanta this evening to challenge the #1 seeded Hawks.
Lionel Hollins will be the third coach in as many years to lead the Brooklyn Nets into the post-season. After Avery Johnson's dismissal shortly into year one, P.J. Carlessimo took over and guided Brooklyn towards its first post-season. Jason Kidd was then given a clean slate the following season. After tossing assistant coach Lawrence Frank overboard, Captain Kidd righted a listing ship enough for a first round playoff series victory.
Few would argue Jason Kidd's attempted coup d'etat partly warranted his dismissal from the Nets. So, off to Milwaukee he went. The Bucks posted a 15-67 record last season. Then, as the youngest team in the league, they improved to 41-41 this season under Jason Kidd to qualify for the Eastern Conference #6 seed.
Not incidentally, the Nets were 1-3 against the younger, more athletic Bucks this season. On April 12th, the Nets 96-73 loss to Milwaukee tied their season low for points scored. In January, the Nets put forth an even more pathetic 108-73 losing effort against Deron Williams' former (and equally more athletic) club.
Two seasons ago, the Boston Celtics initiated a full blown rebuilding, yet still managed to post a 40-42 record this season and qualify for the playoffs. One might even argue general manager Danny Ainge's decision to gut the Celts was partly inspired by Billy King's generosity in offering Boston the Nets #1 draft picks for the foreseeable future in exchange for the aged Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, etc.
The two were no doubt positive influences on the Nets. In fact, Paul Pierce made sure everyone knew that. Now playing with the #5 seeded Washington Wizards, Pierce very recently sounded-off regarding the Nets (perceived) pathetic attitudes, lack of will and effort in practice, their overall team and individual defectiveness, and even singled out Deron Williams.
On a more positive note, prior to his trade back to Minnesota, Kevin Garnett was an extremely positive influence on Mason Plumlee that should benefit the Nets moving forward. A Duke/Coach K background, and a heavy dose of KG is a great foundation to build upon.
Saying the Nets backed-in, or limped into the post-season is being kind.
They nevertheless will challenge the Eastern Conference #1 seeded Atlanta Hawks, against whom they lost all four regular season meetings. In December, the Nets were limited to just 75 points by Atlanta. On April 4th, the Hawks posted a 32-point margin of victory over the Nets in Atlanta, then visited Barclays Center four days later, and beat them again by a 114-111 score.
The big three of this team; the big financial three if nothing else; have arrived at what should be their final go-around together. The triad of Brook Lopez, Deron Williams, and Joe Johnson, have been the only measure of consistency for this team over three seasons. The otherwise supporting cast members have entered and exited Billy King's commune via a fast and free spinning revolving door.
The results have been minimal; one playoff series victory in two previous post-season appearances.
Inconsistency, has been constant around here. There's times when the Nets play inspired basketball, and look like legitimate contenders, but then suffer through episodes when they flat out suck. Unfortunately, this season they played like second division dwellers more often than not.
The Nets have gotten off to bad starts in all three of their seasons in Brooklyn. However, Lionel Hollins never quite orchestrated the January turn-around the Nets enjoyed in the previous two seasons.
The "season turn-around" didn't materialize until, arguably, late March. Weeks and months of underachieving, heightened by tension over the benching of starters Deron Williams and Brook Lopez, rabid trade rumors, and another mid-season roster shake-up, all led up to a 27-39 record by March 18th.
The Nets went on to win 10 of their next 12 games, which included a 6-game win streak with victories over the likes of Cleveland, Indiana, and Toronto. However, they struggled with a 3-4 record down the stretch and placed their potential playoff appearance in serious jeopardy.
I have argued Billy King should not have lasted this long - not after 4 head coaching changes, spending the team into salary cap and luxury tax oblivion, the yet unrealized damage this organization will suffer due to lack of control of their #1 picks through 2019-2020, the consistent lack of speed in transition or otherwise - basically non-athletic players, and dwindling win totals.
What should await the general manager should the Nets quietly bow out of the playoffs for a third straight season?
Part of the answer is complicated by the fact that no one is really sure of the owner's level of commitment towards retaining or selling the team.
All that being said, it's time to shock the world!
Let's go Brooklyn.
Let's Go Nets!