It wasn’t supposed to come to this, but that isn’t a bad thing.
In a newfound problem for the Brooklyn Nets, that exclusively applies to teams with top-flight talent, a power struggle has emerged within the organization. After a 2018-2019 campaign that saw an 8-18 beginning turn on the back of D’Angelo Russell, the Brooklyn Nets established a culture that made fans forget recent years of despair that was doomed by the infamous 2013 trade with the Boston Celtics.
Culture became a buzzword for the Nets front office and fans as their overachieving 42-40 record offered promise after entering the season with diminished expectations and a self-proclaimed “system” that had produced little in the way of results.
Caris Levert’s gruesome injury halted his promising start to the season, leaving behind a shattered locker room looking for a leader to step up. Through the wreckage emerged D’Angelo Russell, who along with a bunch of former cast-offs, guided the team through an obstacle-filled season. For this, Russell earned a spot on the Eastern Conference all-star team.
Developing right next to Russell was his backup, Spencer Dinwiddie, who had proven to be a mismatch nightmare, seeking out big men and delivering the highest point per possession totals in the NBA throughout the season. Also making a rise from the scrap heap was Joe Harris, who developed a well-rounded game to make him a mainstay in lineups to close out games.
This was a welcome sight for coach Kenny Atkinson and general manager Sean Marks, who finally saw results after two tumultuous seasons at the helm. Rather than continuing to accumulate assets in hopes of striking a diamond in the rough, the Nets were suddenly in a position of power, with high-profile stars being linked to them consistently and public perception changing in a very vocal manner around the league.
The veterans on the team were thorough in their praise of coach Atkinson, citing the system he developed as instrumental in helping the team blend perfectly and play to their strengths at all times.
The signings of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and Deandre Jordan on June 30 changed the landscape of the league, as the cellar-dwelling Brooklyn Nets were catapulted into the top-tier of basketball as a team with the firepower to push through the Eastern conference and go toe to toe with the fearsome superstars of Los Angeles out West.
Durant and Irving have openly discussed the allure of a solid culture in their decision to come to Brooklyn. Since their signings, however, they have been behind many decisions that indicate their desire to rid the team of their old regime and insert their power in a way that has become customary for superstars around the league. The culture-oriented Nets are now at a crossroads, with each passing decision serving as a reminder that this league is run by superstars.
When pressured by Durant and Irving, Marks nixed the idea of bringing in Carmelo Anthony, who at the time, had been shunned by all 30 teams in his attempt to make it back onto a roster. Although Marks was able to put his foot down in this instance, the subsequent firing of Kenny Atkinson beckoned the question: does culture win championships, or it is the superstars that do? The relevance of this conflict is an indictment of where the league stands. The players hold all the power
Perhaps Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant understand after seeing Atkinson’s style that he does not possess the qualities of a championship-level coach, and to me, that’s okay. After all, when you have the opportunity to sign two superstars after being mired in mediocrity, you hand them the keys and let them drive the franchise wherever they see fit.