The Brooklyn Nets are on fire right now. Currently coming off an eight-game winning streak, the Nets are playing at an extraordinarily dominant level that has led them all the way to second place in the East with a mere .5 game back from first (ESPN).
This success has been predicated on their offensive production, led by Brooklyn’s elite big three in Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving. Leading the NBA in points with 120.7 per game, the Nets have founded their success by overwhelming their opponents with offensive fortitude and finesse (ESPN). Just to give you an idea, Durant, Irving, and Joe Harris are all shooting over 50% on the season, producing a level of consistency that is hard to come by in the NBA (ESPN).
However, the Nets have 13 losses for a reason, and at the heart of that blemish is their defense. Defensively, the Nets rank 27th in the league in points per game and have allowed their opponents to shoot 46.9% from the field (ESPN). Their small ball approach is certainly to blame for this to an extent, but the core issue for the Nets defensively is their inability to produce any sort of interior defense and prevent teams from carving them up inside. Although Durant minimizes that when he’s on the floor, it still remains to be the greatest thorn in the side of this Nets team. And the biggest cause for this dilemma, is an out-of-his-prime DeAndre Jordan.
In all fairness, there’s only so much you can pin on Jordan, especially when he has stretch, power forwards in Durant, and Jeff Green alongside him who don’t dwell in the paint. But at the end of the day, Jordan is turning 33 this summer and is simply not the menacing center he used to be 7 years ago (ESPN). In addition, it appears that head coach Steve Nash will stick with this small ball approach, and as a result, Jordan would have to continue to handle most of the heavy lifting inside, which he’s struggled with throughout this season. And no matter how well the Nets are playing right now, they will need a much stronger interior presence in the paint if they want to reach the NBA Finals.
Essentially, this is why the Nets should look to trade Jordan and a couple of other players from their roster for another premier big man who could fulfill the role the Nets need so desperately inside. The trade deadline is on March 25th, so the Nets do have some time to work with. However, despite such, the Nets don’t have a vast variety of options to choose from and shouldn’t take too long to make their decision. And with the month of March just a few days away, it is of the utmost importance that the Nets target and trade for the best rebounding center in the NBA, in Andre Drummond.
Is this bold, far-fetched, and probably unrealistic, absolutely. But trading for Drummond would not only make for a near-perfect fit for this starting five but, above all, is a trade that could actually come to fruition; it’s just a matter of how forthcoming the Nets will choose to be when making the necessary sacrifices to execute it. You see, Drummond is in his prime, but at the same time, the Cleveland Cavaliers are in the midst of a full-on rebuild project and will want a substantial amount of compensation in return. And since draft picks from the Nets won’t hold that much value, Brooklyn will need to offer a convincing trade package instead. Although they have a handful of different players to choose from, the best trade offer the Nets can pitch to the Cavaliers consists of the following:
After already giving up Jarrett Allen, Caris LeVert, and Taurean Prince, it might be difficult for some Nets fans to accept another major overhaul that would send three of their best role players to the Cavaliers. But believe it or not, this trade works out really well for both teams.
For starters, the Cavaliers already have two centers in Allen and JaVale McGee, so Jordan would potentially be passed along to another team the Cavaliers could trade him to. But outside of that, Cleveland would receive two good, young guards that would help reinforce a backcourt that doesn’t have a whole lot of depth behind Collin Sexton and Darius Garland. Dinwiddie is most likely out for the remainder of the season but is still in his prime and would uplift the Cavaliers backcourt significantly when healthy. On top of that, he has fantastic chemistry with Allen from their days together in Brooklyn, so bringing him to Cleveland would really improve their offensive cohesion. Luwawu-Cabarrot, on the other hand, is healthy and a rising talent the Cavaliers could benefit from having. Providing scrappy perimeter defense, solid rebounding, and a natural ability to score, Luwawu-Cabarrot is a bright, young prospect that the Cavaliers could really use off the bench.
In regards to the Nets side of the deal (outside of receiving Drummond), sending these three players is also quite helpful for the development and progress of this team and for the following reasons. First and foremost, after Harden arrived earlier this year, there’s just no room for the kind of role and minutes Dinwiddie would want and requires. At age 26, Dinwiddie is entering his prime, and there’s just no way he’s going to accept 20 minutes off the bench. Moreover, the Nets also have a lot of guards on their team, and although someone like Luwawu-Cabarrot brings great depth, there’s just no need to hold onto him when you have Bruce Brown, Landry Shamet, and Tyler Johnson already handling a large load of the guard duties off the bench. Although removing Jordan from their starting lineup might be a bit disruptive, bringing in the best rebounder in the league eradicates that void almost immediately.
At the end of it all, the Nets have done a lot to get their team on track, so it’s hard to predict if they will actually go forward with this trade proposal. But if they want to give this franchise a real chance at winning their first championship title, it’s in their best interest to trade for Andre Drummond.
The trade which Harden pushed so hard since the offseason escalated quickly after his zoom interview last night.
“We’re not even close, honestly, to, obviously, the defending champions (Lakers) and all the other elite teams out there,” Harden said. “I mean, you can tell the difference in these last two games.
“Chemistry, talent-wise, everything. It’s clear. I love this city. I’ve literally done everything I can. It’s crazy. I don’t think it can be fixed. Thanks.”
The Rockets eventually caved in to his trade demand.
Reunion in Brooklyn
Harden is now reunited with Durant, his former Oklahoma City Thunder teammate.
The Nets got much-needed firepower after losing Spencer Dinwiddie to a season-ending injury. An uneven start forced the Nets to mortgage their future for the present. It didn’t help that Irving also went on leave due to personal reasons.
The trade, though, left the Nets’ bench gutted.
They have three more spots to fill. Look out for Jamal Crawford’s name to be linked to the Nets anew. Crawford played for the Nets in the Orlando bubble.
The Rockets, meanwhile, can now move forward from the drama that engulfed the team up to this point.
Oladipo will team up with John Wall at the backcourt.
The Rockets endured a volatile offseason with Harden instigating a ‘holdout’ in the training camp. That caused him to miss the beginning of training camp and their first two preseason games. He was subsequently fined for violating the league’s health protocols.
On the other hand, the Cavaliers got an emerging young center in Allen. He will serve as their center of the future with Andre Drummond set to hit free agency.
It was the least of our worries, but New York sports took a beating in 2020. These dates in 2021 could be steps in the right direction.
2020 has come and (finally) gone…now what?
Defeatist as the naysayers may be, they’re right in the fact that our problems don’t immediately disappear in 2021r. It’s the least of our issues at this point in time…and, frankly, that probably applies on an eternal basis…but the axiom applies for New York’s major sports teams. Any hint of good juju will do in these trying times, but every team knows they have work to do that won’t be accomplished with a mere calendar flip. However, there are plenty of names giving us hope and excitement, and the 2021 ledger has plenty of days as well that could help this area’s athletic programs turn the corner and get back in the right direction.
These seven days could win up changing everything…
(unscheduled events, like the WNBA Draft, Buffalo Bills wild card game, etc. are not included due to lack of date)
January 14: Islanders-Rangers open at MSG
Critics have remarked that, in addition to their current woes, the modern New York sports teams don’t much hope for the future. The New York Rangers seemed to be a welcome counterargument through a rebuilding process that netted them (pun intended) two elite scorers (Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad) and heir to Henrik Lundqvist in Igor Shesterkin. The Rangers had to bid farewell to several friendly faces in the process (including Lundqvist, Mats Zuccarello, and Derek Stepan) but reloaded with a strong prospect pool. Their uncanny ability to move up through the draft ranks thanks to the bounce of the ping-pong ball also saw Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafrenière don blue.
But their biggest rivals through a bit of a wrench into the good feelings with a length playoff run that ended two wins away from their first Stanley Cup final appearance since 1983. Under head coach Barry Trotz, the Islanders have won playoff series in consecutive years for the first time since that magic Cup run in the 1980s. John Tavares has been quickly forgotten, with the new Islander core led by homegrown talents Mathew Barzal, Josh Bailey, and Brock Nelson. Washington Capitals alum Semyon Varlamov has manned the pipes, forming a strong veteran platoon with Thomas Griess.
With the 2021 NHL season set to get underway this month, the battle for New York ice recommences at Madison Square Garden, the latest struggle serving as the season opener for both teams. The last get-together was one for the ages from a Rangers standpoint, as they took the gritty tilt in a 4-3 final, with Zibanejad scoring on a one-timer from Panarin 28 seconds into a 3-on-3 overtime session.
January 18: Islanders Battle for Respect vs. Boston
With the opening faceoff approaching, you’d almost never think that the Islanders were one of the final four teams battling for the Stanley Cup last season. The preseason accolades in the Eastern Conference include the usual suspects (Tampa Bay, Boston, Washington), many have pegged the Islanders as afterthoughts who may miss the playoffs entirely. Their temporary divisional settings, made to minimize travel, are packed with matchups against dangerous competition. That includes a whopping eight matchups with Boston, who joins what was essentially the Metropolitan division this season.
While the Islanders may have to wait a year to take revenge on the defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning, they have a big chance to make an early statement against the Bruins at Nassau Coliseum. Boston took two-of-three meetings last season, with the Islanders’ win coming in shootout fashion last December.
February 18: Nets @ Lakers
Just before 2020 took away sports, the Brooklyn Nets walked into Staples Center and stole a 104-102 decision from a Los Angeles Lakers team that was seven months away from championship glory. Brooklyn did so without Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, and a full-time head coach, having parted ways with Kenny Atkinson three days prior. Spencer Dinwiddie drained the game-winning jumper with 28 seconds remaining.
Brooklyn’s return trip could be a potential NBA Finals preview with both teams firing out of the gate in the early going. It will also mark the first meeting between Durant and LeBron James since Christmas 2018, when James and the Lakers torched Durant’s Golden State Warriors in a 127-101 final. The battle between Durant and James for the Western Conference title came to an end shortly after, as James’ season was never the same after an injury he sustained shortly after.
April 1: The Cohen Era Begins
Mets fans have waited a long time for some long-term, consistent hope for this franchise. They believe that new owner Steve Cohen can finally provide it. In his brief time at the New York helm, Cohen has shown a willingness to splurge on name-brand talent, thus far adding catcher James McCann to their arsenal.
The Mets’ first game under Cohen’s watch comes on April 1 against the Washington Nationals, the defending champions under a full-season setting. Both the Mets and Nationals are looking for redemption after the shortened campaign, the pair uniting for the NL East cellar with matching 26-34 records last season.
April 21: NFL Draft
Both metropolitan football squads will have major decisions to make when the NFL convenes in Cleveland (hopefully in person) for its annual selection proceedings. Following the Sugar Bowl semifinal in New Orleans, the Jets will be situated in the middle of one of the most intriguing quarterback debates in recent memory, as they’ll likely choose between Justin Fields or Trevor Lawrence at the top of the draft board. Of course, this will come after the Jets make a decision on their current throw Sam Darnold…could they be persuaded to take another blocker or a receiving weapon instead?
Meanwhile, the Giants are in a most uncanny position, one that partially depends on how they do on Sunday afternoon against the Dallas Cowboys (1 p.m. ET, Fox). They could either be defending NFC East champions or hitting the clock third on draft day. Do they stick with Daniel Jones, or perhaps take a waiver on BYU’s Zach Wilson? Will general manager Dave Gettleman still be around to oversee it? Either way, the decisions each team makes on this day will affect their respective futures for years to come.
May 4: The Astros (Finally) visit The Bronx
Time will tell just if the handling of the ongoing health crisis will allow fans to return to Yankee Stadium. Even if they’re welcomed back on a limited basis, the top game to attend on everyone’s list would likely be the Houston Astros’ first visit.
Much was made about MLB’s response…or lack thereof…to the Astros’ sign-stealing operation. While the Astros got an earful from opposing fans upon visits to spring training facilities, they were shielded from jeers in the regular season by public health restrictions. Even if only a limited group is allowed into Yankee Stadium by the time May rolls around, one can guarantee that they’ll make their prescience felt when the hated Astros come by. Houston may have taken the past two series matchups with the Yankees, taking the ALCS from them in 2017 and 2019, but most of their wins have come within the confines of Minute Maid Park. In those playoff meetings, the Astros were 2-4 in The Bronx. It also mark a reunion between the Astros and Gerrit Cole, now the Yankees ace after inking a $324 million contract in New York.
July 2: The Subway Series Arrives
Cohen’s purchase and splurging in Queens has raised a question in the Big Apple…is the city becoming a Mets town? The Yankees have been consistent over the past few seasons, currently working on a four-year postseason streak that has seen them advance at least one round in each visit. But that seems to be the major issue: the Yankees appear to be complacent with just that: meaningful games in September and October, rather than championship rings. The Cole signing notwithstanding, numerous free agents have slipped through the Yankees’ grip, and their most consistent hitter in this process, DJ LeMahieu, remains a free agent.
The Mets will have a chance to show how far they’ve come during Cohen’s first Subway Series set, which will be staged on Independence Day weekend at Yankee Stadium. Small as it may seem on a national scale, clinching the Subway Series could do a lot for them from a personal standpoint. Queens hasn’t outright won the annual sets since 2013, though things have ended in a tie four times in that span (including the past three).
In 2020, we learned just how small sports were on the grand scale. Even so, these New Yorkers brought hope and joy to the beleaguered area.
Ah, 2020…we knew ye too well.
“Auld Lang Syne” will hit a little differently this New Year’s Eve, as the country and the world entire prepares to bid farewell to one of the most brutal 366-day cycles in recent memory. The year even took away sports at one point in time, which might’ve almost been seen as a merciful act considering the modern endeavors of New York sports. Metropolitan athletics have consistently fallen far short of their inflated expectations. Save for the New York Islanders’ surprise trip to the NHL’s Eastern Conference finals, each of New York’s teams either endured early postseason exits or missed out entirely.
Yet, there were several names in the sports world, before and after the period of pause and reflection, that gave the metropolitan area hope in this brutal season. ESM bids farewell with 20 legends…
So brutal were metropolitan affiars this season that we had to turn to our friends in Western New York. But, unless you’re a Jets who has two annual meetings with Allen to dread for the foreseeable future, it’s hard not to appreciate what Allen has done for the Bills’ franchise, defying draft day expectations out of Wyoming and playing a vital role in ending their 17-year playoff drought and turning them into Super Bowl contenders. Entering Sunday’s regular season final against Miami (1 p.m. ET, CBS), Allen has broken Jim Kelly’s record for most touchdown passes in a single season of Bills football (34) and is within striking distance of Drew Bledsoe’s yardage record of the same variety. Allen has also taken home six Offensive Player of the Week Awards in his career (four this season), second only to the ten earned by the aforementioned Kelly.
As the New York Islanders go through a period of both transition and prosperity…being one of the rare metropolitan teams to experience postseason success in 2020…Barzal has evolved into a face of the franchise, taking over from the Toronto-based John Tavares. Appropriately, it was Barzal that informed the hockey world that the Islanders were going to be a problem in the bubble, scoring the game-winning goal in the their 2-1 win over Washington in the Eastern Conference quarterfinal round, a tally that gave the Islanders a 3-0 lead in the series. Ironically, Barzal’s moment of glory came in Tavares’ current stomping grounds of Scotiabank Arena.
The New York Jets have a lot of questions to answer once the calendar officially flips. But Becton, the Jets’ first-round choice (11th overall) out of Louisville is crossing one need off their offseason shopping list. Called upon to protect Sam Darnold’s blindside, Becton has become one of the most dominant young blockers in football, ranking at or near the top of several analytical rookie lists. The Jets aren’t quite sure who their quarterback is going come next September. They do know, however, that Becton will be serving as his security.
Formerly under general manager Dave Gettleman’s watch in Carolina, Bradberry came to New York with relatively little fanfare. He has since gone on to become one of the biggest reasons why the Giants have a shot at anotherwise inexplicable playoff spot. Bradberry has done his part to make sure that Big Blue is at least well represented in the SportsCenter Top 10, making several acrobatic interceptions that led to his first Pro Bowl nomination.
A lot of adjustment was required to make it through 2020, but the Mets remained their same disappointing selves, tying with the defending champion Washington Nationals for last place in the NL East. But, thanks to new owner Cohen, there’s legitimate hope in the organization for the first time in ages. The Great Neck-born hedge fund manager has immediately endeared himself to fans with promises to use his surplus budget in free agency (which manifested early with the signing of James McCann), his willingness to clean house shortly after his arduous purchase was completed, and his lighthearted interactions with supporters on Twitter.
The shortened seasons denied Yankees fans the full Cole experience in the early going, but it’s safe to say the newly minted $324 million man lived up to the hype. He saved the best for last, earning a 1.00 ERA over four starts in September and later struck out 13 without a walk in the Yankees’ Wild Card Series win over Cleveland. Such a feat had been accomplished since Tom Seaver’s endeavor in the 1973 NLCS.
The trade for Diggs feels like it happened years ago, as do all the tweets and thoughtpieces that claim the Bills gave up too much for the former Minnesota Viking. But the Minneapolis Miracle worker has made the four-pick exchange worth it, even erasing the fact that the Bills missed out on rookie sensation Justin Jefferson. Like Allen, Diggs is rewriting the Bills’ record book, breaking Eric Moulds’ former marks for single-season for receptions (120) and yardage (1,459). Both of tallies lead the NFL entering the final week of the regular season.
Brooklyn Nets fans received a bit of a special Christmas gift this year, as they were finally treated to Kevin Durant’s debut in black and white. Teamed up with Kyrie Irving, the ten-time All-Star hasn’t lost a step, putting 28.3 points and 5.8 rebounds over his first four games. Durant apparently saved the best for first, torching his former compatriots from Golden State for 22 points on opening night before scoring 29 in a Christmas win over Boston.
The draft lottery has turned into a cruel custom for the blue and orange hardwood representatives in New York, but the Liberty hit the jackpot with the drafting of Ionescu in April. The city didn’t get the full Ionescu treatment in her rookie season, with an ankle injury limiting her metropolitan antics to three games. But the Oregon alumna is on pace to be a true face of women’s sports in the area, with her jersey sales ranking fourth in the WNBA this season. Ionescu gave her new Brooklyn fanbase something to be excited about before fate stepped in, scoring 33 points in only her second career contest.
Irving’s 2020 heroics likewise required patience. He partook in only 20 games during the shortened 2019-20 campaign (none of them during the Nets’ endeavor in Disney World) but managed to drop 54 points (on 19-of-23 shooting from the field) in a January win over Chicago. Irving likewise emerged as one of the most vocal voices in social change alongside his basketball brothers and sisters. He was more than willing to carry on his basketball antics on the court once he was ready to get rolling again, torching the Celtics for 37 points on Christmas.
Perhaps no one defined the 2020 New York Liberty sense of resiliency and development better than Jones. Bookending the first round of the 2020 WNBA Draft with Ionescu, Jones took full advantage of relatively consequence-free basketball, making herself essential when the Liberty’s plethora of veterans potentially return in 2021. The Louisville alumna took over point guard duties after Ionescu went down, resuming a role she last played during her high school days at Florida A&M University’s Developmental Research School. She put up 10.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 1.4 steals per game, earning a spot on the league’s official all-rookie team.
Signer of a six-year deal to remain an Islander before the season started, Nelson became one of the team’s most reliable and clutch performers during their run to the conference finals. He scored three game-winning goals and finished second on the team in postseason points with 18.
New York Guardians Defense
The second attempt at XFL feels like an endeavor from years ago, but briefly took over the February calendar with a slate that wound up lasting five games. It allowed MetLife Stadium to enjoy at least some form of victorious football, as the local Guardians won each of their two games at the venue. Their defense was particularly strong, as Cavon Walker led the league in sacks (4.5) and six different defenders earned at least one interception.
If there was ever a year to not take risks, 2020 was certainly at, or at least near, the top of the list. Despite Panarin’s many talents, many saw the Rangers’ seven-year, $81.5 million deal with the former Blue Jacket (a smaller price tag after Panarin spurned the Islanders) as too much dedication to a single player. But Panarin lived up to the massive deal, finishing off the shortened season with a career-best 95 points (good for a third-place tie on the NHL ledger).
As a Rutgers alum, New Jersey native, and the man who took Tom Brady’s final New England throw back for a touchdown, Ryan seemed destined for a metropolitan collaboration. The Giants took the plunge shortly before the season began, and Ryan has rewarded them with a strong showing that has included good coverage, 91 tackles, and an interception that clinched the season sweep against Washington (which will come up big if the two sides tie for the NFC lead after Sunday). It has been an emotional season for Ryan, whose wife Ashley endured an ectopic pregnancy. Ryan later inked a three-year deal to stay with the Giants on Christmas Day.
The National Women’s Soccer League was the first North American team sports league to make its return this summer, staging its annual Challenge Cup festivities in Utah. Sky Blue FC, their debut season at Red Bull Arena pushed back due to obvious reasons, had struggled in recent years but put on a strong showing with a fourth-place finish. Sheridan was the driving force behind the effort, winning the tournament’s Golden Glove award to the tune of three shutouts. Sky Blue also had a respectable showing in the NWSL’s fall showcase, earning a matching fourth-place mark.
Wishing someone association with the James Dolan-owned sounds like a punishment one would avoid giving their worst enemy…at least their worst hardwood enemy. Thibodeau, however, returns to the ranks of head coaching to face what’s his toughest challenge yet. But, unlike his predecessors, it appears Thibodeau has a plan for the Knicks moving forward, seeking to change the culture and build a team-centered atmosphere. So far, it’s played in the Knicks’ favor. The team has played competitively in the infantile stages of the season, sitting at 2-2 after the first four games (including a dominant win over Giannis Antetokounmpo and Milwaukee). They’ll have chance to end the season on the right note on Friday night against Toronto (7:30 p.m. ET, MSG).
The jokes against Islander goaltending officially ended, or were at least put on hold, through Varlamov’s efforts. He came up with several big saves during the playoff trek and was one of only six goalies inside the Canada bubbles to record multiple shutouts. His 2.14 goals against average was also fourth amongst goalies with at least 10 playoff starts.
Williams retook control of the narrative surrounding his career, as many felt he was destined to be a bust after struggling in his rookie season (and with Pro Bowler Josh Allen going shortly after him). But Williams responded with a stellar sophomore season, leading all interior defensive linemen in both traditional and analytical categories as one of the most consistent backfield invaders in the league.
Zibanejad is perhaps responsible for the most dominant one-man effort of the 2020 sports season, tallying a jaw-dropping five goals, including the overtime winner in a March win over the Capitals. The yield from one of the biggest robberies in New York sports memory (the biggest loss being Derick Brassard to Ottawa in the trade), Zibanejad again put up his best numbers despite a shutdown, scoring 41 goals (fifth in the league) in 57 games.
If you’re a follower of Brooklyn Nets news, then you have probably seen the video of Kyrie Irving burning sage prior to the Nets’ final preseason game against the Celtics last night. Irving explained after the game, his “smudging” was meant to cleanse the energy in the arena but to0 many Nets fans, it may have had a slightly different meaning; a fresh start. Not since the early 2000s have Nets, fans had a team with this much hype and excitement around them. With a healthy Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, returning key contributors in Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, and Jarrett Allen, and adding Landry Shamet and Jeff Green in the offseason to round out this roster, stakes could not be higher for the Brooklyn Nets as we approach the regular season.
Breaking Down the Nets Final Preseason Game
Kevin Durant Shows Out
While the first preseason game belonged to Kyrie, Durant stole the show against the Celtics last night, scoring 25 points on 9-16 from the field in 27 minutes of action. Whether it was the pull-up three, blowing by his defender for the dunk at the rim, or the un-guardable mid-range shot, Durant showed to everyone last night that he hasn’t lost a step. But elite offense wasn’t the only feature Durant showcased last night; he also led the Nets with 3 blocks, several of them coming at the rim. If this is the Kevin Durant Nets fans will get this season, barring any health setbacks, then there aren’t many teams in the East who can claim their #1 is better than Brooklyn’s.
Kyrie Continues to Lead
There have been several instances throughout the first two pre-season games where Kyrie Irving has shown his leadership among teammates. Yesterday, there were two specific scenarios. One came shortly after a Spencer Dinwiddie drive to the basket, of which there was contact with his defender but no call. This became a reoccurring theme for Dinwiddie throughout the night, as there were not many fouls called on his behalf. After a particularly physical drive, Dinwiddie was visually frustrated on the ground after not receiving the call, and an encouraging Kyrie Irving came over to him to pick him up. Seems subtle and small, but those are the types of actions that good teammates and leaders exhibit on a nightly basis.
The second moment came from Irving leading by example. After the Celtics went on a mini-run midway through the game, Tatum had just finished a sequence in which he had scored 5 straight points and rejected Spencer Dinwiddie on his drive to the rim. With the Nets only leading by 9, the smallest lead since the beginning of the game, Irving demanded the ball with Tatum covering him, immediately took him to the lane, and scored on a beautiful floater. You could feel the Celtics’ momentum vanish as the Nets would go on a scoring run of their own after that moment. These are the types of momentum swings that leaders like Kyrie and KD have to execute in order for the Nets to be dominant. Kyrie finished with 17 pts, 5 assists, and 7 rebs in 28 minutes.
Role Players who Impressed
There were several Nets outside of KD and Kyrie who performed exceptionally last night. Joe Harris had a huge “remember me guys?” moment early on in the game and finished with 14 points. Dinwiddie looked efficient with the starters, despite a 1-7 shooting night, picking his spots on when he should attack and when he should defer to the two stars on the team. And Jarrett Allen continued his excellent play in backing up Deandre Jordan (will return to shortly) with a stat line of 9 pts and 11 rebs. As for the two newcomers in Jeff Green and Landry Shamet, they have given Steve Nash some excellent minutes thus far. Shamet has looked sharp with the 2nd unit and moves well without the ball. Green, playing at the 5, has given the Nets a small-ball lineup with all 5 players on the court capable of hitting a three. TLC gave the Nets 11 solid minutes off the bench and has fought hard this preseason to crack this Nets rotation.
Preseason Summary & Remaining Roster questions
Obviously, the biggest story out of the Nets’ two preseason games has been how great Kyrie and KD have both looked. There needs to be something said about the fact that these guys complement each other’s games very nicely. KD can play with anybody, and Kyrie now feels he has an equal scoring counterpart on his team (sorry, Lebron). The supporting cast has looked exceptional, and Nash has done a great job of mixing and matching rotations in hopes of generating an optimal five players throughout the game. The Nets have dominated their opponents in both preseason games, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t questions about this team headed into the regular season.
For example, who will start at the center position, Deandre Jordan or Jarrett Allen? In two preseason games, Coach Nash has yet to insert Jarrett Allen into the starting lineup. Now, this is where many Nets fans have disagreed with Nash; anyone with eyes can see Allen has the ability to contribute much more than Jordan, both on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. Unfortunately, the narrative is that because Jordan has a close-knit friendship with KD and Kyrie, he will continue to start over Allen. This is something that may change if the Nets go on a losing skid early on in the season.
Another question Nash will have to answer is who will start alongside Kyrie, Spencer Dinwiddie, or Caris LeVert? Yesterday, we saw Dinwiddie get the start, who seemed to mesh well with Kyrie and KD despite the off shooting night. LeVert led the 2nd unit and eventually would get some time with KD and Kyrie in the 3rd. While it seemed as though Nash’s strategy worked as LeVert managed to score 18 points in 21 minutes, the Nets are still unsure on who will start and who will come off the bench between the two.
This next season for the Brooklyn Nets marks a very special, inaugural chapter for this franchise. With their last NBA Finals appearance dating all the way back to the 2002-03 season, the Nets have been longing not only for a chance to reach the NBA Finals once again but to finally get the chance to win their very first NBA title. Since 2003, the Nets have embarked on an up and down, rollercoaster ride of success, clinching a playoff berth in 9 of their last 17 seasons but repeatedly coming up short, be it in the semifinals or in the 1st round. As was expected at some point in time, desperation and hunger reached its climaxing point and the Nets, in a blink of an eye, sealed two of the biggest superstars this game has seen in Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant.
After being a mere 8th or 7th seeded team at best, the Nets all of a sudden have transformed into a title contender in the Eastern Conference along with the Bucks, the Celtics, the Heat, and the Raptors. With tough injuries causing a season-long setback for their newly acquired superstars, the time has finally come on December 22nd for Durant and Irving to combine their talents and prove to Nets fans why the wait and investment was well worth it.
But on top of all of this, the Nets also chose to hire a new head coach to guide this new superstar team, selecting none other than the former MVP point guard Steve Nash. His impact and influence will certainly make for an intriguing sight to behold, considering how wise and knowledgeable he is. But with no experience as a head coach and joining a brand-new team of players he’s yet to work with, presents a challenge that bears a lot of uncertainty. At the root of this insecurity lies one major factor: It’s easy enough to insert Durant and Irving into your starting lineup and call it a day. But the ultimate test for Nash is who he decides to start around these two superstars that will complement their style of play in order for this team to succeed. And with less than a week away before the season starts, Nash will have to decide which starting five grants the Nets the best chance to go the distance. Without further ado, here’s the best starting five the Brooklyn Nets should stick with this season:
PointGuard – Kyrie Irving: Although Spencer Dinwiddie really highlighted just how special and good of a fit he is for this team, you’re simply not going to drop over $30 million on a player just to have him come off the bench. In other words, Kyrie was brought in for a reason as he is one of the most gifted offensive talents in this league and brings an array of invaluable skills that are hard to come by. The only concern for Kyrie really comes down to his ability to spread the wealth and orient his decision making around winning games, not dropping 50 points in each of them. Essentially, Kyrie needs to prove that he can be unselfish and realize that in order to run the best version of this offense, he needs to embrace the talent he has around him and execute the best plays the team needs to make in order to win games. Besides that, Irving is most certainly a lock for the starting point guard position and deservedly so.
Shooting Guard–Joe Harris: ESPN has Joe Harris starting at the three for their depth chart, presenting a small ball lineup that, frankly, is not designed to succeed down the stretch. If you want to win, it’s wise to start Harris at shooting guard, and for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, Harris is a remarkable three-point shooter and a strong perimeter defender, a role that fits best for the guard position. Secondly, with two monstrous scorers in the starting lineup already, there’s no need to cause ball sharing problems by inserting another scoring oriented player in Caris LeVert. In any sport, it’s vital that you cater players to their strengths, not to their weaknesses. And asking LeVert to limit his scoring and essentially his best skill by having him start is unwise. Ultimately, the difference between starting Harris over LeVert, is that Harris compliments the superstar players he has around him very well, whereas LeVert does not. Finding the right mold and balance for a team is a must when aiming for a Finals appearance, and Harris brings just that at the shooting guard position.
Small Forward – Kevin Durant: This is pretty straightforward and clear cut. He’s the best scorer, can virtually attack a defense from anywhere on the floor, and is a very strong defender both inside and out. ESPN has him starting at the four, which can work for some teams the Nets face this year. But it’s best if Durant starts at the position he’s owned since day one. Although they’re very different players, starting Kevin Durant at the four is kind of like starting LeBron James at the four. You can do it, but considering what kind of players these superstars are, they need the full range of the floor and complete access of their skillset to be able to dictate the pace and win games. It’s of vital importance to refrain from stifling Durant’s play, and the best way to do that is to play a bigger lineup and have him start at the three.
Power Forward – Reggie Perry: As crazy as it sounds, Reggie Perry is the best fit for the starting power forward role on this team. This rookie out of Mississippi State was not only made for his position but, simply put, was built for the NBA. To give you an idea of how dominant he was in college, Perry averaged a double-double and then some in his final season with Mississippi State. Putting up 17.4 ppg, along with 10.1 rpg, 2.3 apg, and over a block per game, Perry also shot 50% from the field and over 32% from the 3-point line. The Nets needed another big man to not only help Jarrett Allen in the paint with rebounding and interior defense but also desperately required a boost of inside scoring as well, and Perry fills both of those voids. Even if Nash only chooses to play him for 20-25 minutes per game, his style of play really complements his new teammates and if you need more convincing, just take a look at his first preseason game against the Wizards; Perry had 5 points, 7 rebounds and a block in only 16 minutes (ESPN). The only concern with Perry is lack of experience. But even then, for someone as athletically versatile as he is, Perry should be the Nets’ starting power forward.
Center – Jarrett Allen: For those of you thinking it should be DeAndre Jordan, please think again. The Fro Show is entering his fourth season with the Nets and, at the age of 22, is just beginning to enter his prime (ESPN). Along with the fact that he’s been the anchor of their interior defense and rebounding over the last two seasons, Allen’s chemistry, growth, and role with this team is simply irreplaceable. Think about it this way: Considering the Nets operated a small ball lineup where Allen was frequently isolated in the paint, taking all the big man attention whilst doing so, he somehow still managed to get better at rebounding and scoring. Posting his best numbers to date last season, Allen averaged 11.1 ppg, 9.6 rpg, and shot a stellar 65% from the field (ESPN). And now, with the arrival of Perry and Durant, Allen is only going to get more space down below, which will enable him to come into his own and seize his full potential. At the end of it all, Allen does all the little things you need from a big man. And for a team that’s filled with scorers and guards, he makes for a near-perfect fit as the Nets’ starting center.
For the first nine minutes and 27 seconds of the preseason game between the Brooklyn Nets and the Washington Wizards last Sunday night, the world saw a glimpse of the Kevin Durant-Kyrie Irving potential.
The 119-114 final scoreline in favor of the Nets didn’t tell the whole story.
Worth the long wait
It was a long wait for the Nets, who signed both superstars to separate four-year deals as the culmination of the reclamation project of GM Sean Marks in Brooklyn. But definitely worth it.
Started from the bottom, the Nets have gone a long way, morphing from a team with no cap space into a fringe playoff contender and now a serious title threat in the NBA.
In that glorious stretch in the opening quarter, the long recovery of both Durant and Irving from serious injuries was an afterthought. Irving’s contentious relationship with the media was sidetracked. James Harden was never needed.
Durant dusted off anxious moments and shrugged off nervousness with a baseline dunk for his basket since tearing his Achilles back in June of 2019.
The former MVP was back to his silky-smooth ways scoring 11 points on 3-of-3 shooting, while Irving’s court wizardry produced 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting. The Nets were in full control with Durant and Irving on the floor. They opened up a 12-point lead, 30-28, that ballooned to as many 26 points.
‘I was anxious, nervous’
It didn’t matter the Wizards tried to come back when Durant went out for good in the third quarter while Irving didn’t see action in the second half. What mattered was they showed it’s really worth the wait.
“I was anxious, nervous. I visualized this moment for so long — nine, 10 months of thinking about how it would be, this next phase of my career,” Durant said postgame. “I felt like I was chomping at the bit, especially once COVID hit because I didn’t see a future — when the season was going to start in the future. I was going through it.
“So to go through this felt solid.”
Durant played a total of 24 minutes and finished with 15 points, three rebounds, three assists, and two blocks.
He looked confident in his first game back.
‘The world missed Durant’
Irving led the Nets with 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting despite sitting out the whole second half.
“That’s one of the perks of this position, is you get to coach two incredible players,” said first-time head coach Steve Nash. “Ky was super sharp and Kevin, after such an extensive layoff was very good and close to being incredible.”
“When you have that type of injury,” Nash said of Durant after the game, “it is kind of remarkable he’s at the level he’s at.
“It’s amazing. This is an injury that very few people have conquered, so to speak. It’s beautiful to see him back on the basketball court. I think the world missed him — I certainly did.”
Without Durant and partially Irving (shoulder injury), the Nets were still able to contend for the last playoff spot in the East.
This season, they are expected to contend for the title.
But that will hinge on Durant and Irving’s fragile bodies to hold up for the condensed season.
Bench depth over Harden
James Harden could be their insurance. But if there’s anything their first preseason game revealed aside from the Durant-Irving dominance, the Nets also saw the depth they will potentially miss if the Houston Rockets’ superstar gets his wish.
The Rockets have maintained they do not want the Nets’ complimentary players plus picks, per ESPN report. They may need a third team where the Rockets can get a young star.
The Nets, who played without young rising star Caris LeVert due to patella contusion, had four more players in double figures aside from Durant and Irving.
Spencer Dinwiddie had 10 points and seven assists. Newcomer Landry Shamet, acquired via Draft Day trade, his 3 of 5 from the outside to finish with 13 points. Taurean Prince and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot each added 11.
Irving breaks media silence
Irving, who skipped the postgame interviews, finally broke his media blackout Monday morning.
The Nets and their star point guard were fined $25,000 each for the media blackout to which he responded with a controversial Instagram:
“I’ve had enough of someone else propaganda… I pray we utilize the ‘fine money’ for the marginalized communities in need, especially seeing where our world is presently… I do not talk to Pawns. My attention is worth more.”
Irving addressed them in his first media session, denying it was directed to NBA writers.
“It’s really just about how I felt about the mistreatment of certain artists when we get to a certain platform of when we make decisions within our lives to have full control and ownership… We want to perform in a secure and protected space,” he said.
He also retracted his earlier statement on Durant’s podcast that he really didn’t see them having a coach.
“Steve’s been amazing,” Irving said Monday. “He kind of commands the respect. I think I’ve got to take back my comments in terms of the head coach back a few months ago. But it’s just like, man, we have such a great synergy. Everyone feels like we’re coaching one another to be better, so I’m grateful for that.”
If their first game together is any indication, the synergy looks great. Credit it to Nash for not having a big ego and having the right temperament to handle the issue that could have otherwise gone south.
While the Nets are off to a good start, their title hopes still hang in the balance of their superstars’ fragile bodies and egos.
The NBA training camp has begun, and James Harden is still in Houston. Still the franchise cornerstone of the Rockets.
The blockbuster trade that was supposed to bring Harden to the Brooklyn Nets got stalled with the Rockets wanting to get a king’s ransom in return. Something that the Nets wouldn’t want to do — mortgage their future.
And at the center of the storm that threatened to tilt the balance of power in the NBA is Kevin Durant, who, reportedly, had a conversation with Harden in forming a super team with Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn.
Kevin Durant denies rumors that he had conversations with James Harden about playing for the Nets:
Durant vehemently denied such conversations between him and Harden on the first day of the Nets’ training camp.
“I don’t know where you’re making these stories up, that me and James talked about any of this at a workout,” Durant told reporters via zoom on Tuesday. “I don’t know where that came from. James is a friend of mine, but I let the front office handle all of that stuff. I was just so focused on working out.
But Durant, who will make his much-anticipated return from an Achilles injury more than a week from now, has acknowledged that he’s heard all the trade chatter.
“I heard all the noise that James potentially wanted to come to the Nets, but anyone can make up stories, anyone can write a story, and it gets some traction,” Durant said.
“Nothing’s ever set in stone until it’s set in stone. So I’ve never thought too much about it, just focused on myself and my teammates probably did the same thing, and we just move forward.”
Nets re-sign Tyler Johnson, Chris Chiozza
Moving forward is what the Nets have done as they traded for gunner Landry Shamet and re-signed guards Tyler Johnson and Chris Chiozza.
Even without Harden, the Nets are installed as one of the favorites in the East. All eyes will be on the new-look Nets with Durant and Irving and first-time head coach Steve Nash when they host the Washington Wizards for their first preseason game on Dec. 13 to be aired live on YES Network.
The Brooklyn Nets made a couple of moves that saved them roughly $9 million in luxury tax while injecting more shooting to surround Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
The Nets have landed Landry Shamet in a three-way Draft Day trade with the Los Angeles Clippers, and the Detroit Pistons. The Nets then waived veteran Garrett Temple on Thursday, first reported by Ian Begley of SNY.
Luke Kennard will go to the Clippers, while the Nets’ 19th pick (Villanova’s Saddiq Bey) will begin his NBA career as a Piston.
The 23-year old Shamet will add shooting to the Nets, the sixth-worst in three-point accuracy last season. Shamet is a 40.2 percent career three-point shooter and is much younger than Temple.
The Nets were able to lower down their luxury tax bill by not picking up the $5 million team option of Temple, who is expected to sign with another contender.
Brooklyn payroll goes from $143.4M ➡️$138.4M
Current tax bill goes from $18M ➡️$8.7M
The Landry Shamet addition plus the potential high cost of free agent Joe Harris resulted in the team option declined for Garrett Temple.
Shamet appeared to be excited with the trade as he posted a video of him enjoying steak and wine with Jay-Z’s Empire State of Mind playing in the background shortly after the deal was announced on Wednesday night.