The 2018-2019 season was a very positive one for the Brooklyn Nets. At least when you compare it with the last few.
The franchise racked up 42 wins, and it was the first time they got a .500+ record since 2014.
They didn’t get too far in the playoffs, but it has to be said that they were drawn against a stacked Philadelphia roster and gave them a good scare in the opening game.
Unfortunately for them, they couldn’t keep up the tempo and eventually fell to a superior side that was even touted as one of the favorites of winning the Eastern Conference.
So looking back, I would say that Brooklyn had a terrific season not only because of the results but because their long-term plan seems to be coming to fruition.
With the two elite signings they made this summer, the club is finally looking like a real contender after being mocked for years. But how did they persuade two of the best players in the NBA to join their ranks, and what made this possible?
There are a couple of reasons for the ascent of the Nets, and this is exactly what I will be looking at in this post.
But before we go forward, I would like us to journey back to the relocation of the franchise and the one appointment that single-handedly brought hope and success to Brooklyn.
The Brooklyn Era
The franchise had a long history of playing in New Jersey, but it wasn’t a successful one. The New Jersey Nets were a small market team that rarely had the resources to attract top talent or play exciting basketball. It must be something to do with the place. Even to most locals, New Jersey is not exactly a town you associate with flair and entertainment when it comes to sports (apologies to all people from New Jersey, but you know it’s true).
As is the case with a lot of other things, a rivalry between the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets was immediately formed. Back then, the Knicks had it all. They had the big market, the Madison Square Garden, and the top talent.
Even though they weren’t winning any championships, it was still evident that they were the big dog, and nobody could envisage a shift of power in those days.
The Nets were regularly playing in a half-empty arena and were used to being booed off the court by their own fans. Not that I can blame the crowd. The team had some abysmal seasons in their last years in New Jersey, none more shocking than their 2010 record of only 12 regular-season wins.
It was simply a catastrophe on all levels, and the fans had lost all hope of progress.
Then came a very exciting change for them. The 2010/2011 season saw the team relocate to an arena in Newark, and Mikhail Prokhorov, one of the richest people in Russia, had bought the majority of the franchise’s shares. Both things were met very positively by fans who thought that the new venue and owner were exactly what they needed to turn their fortunes.
But the new setting didn’t prove to be an instant success.
The season ended with Brooklyn winning just 24 games and finishing 12th in the Conference. It was an improvement for sure, but the big hype was not transferred to the court.
That is when Prokhorov and other minority owners, Jay-Z included, started the move to Brooklyn.
The idea behind the latest relocation was to inject some of that New York sports enthusiasm and take a piece of the big market share that the Knicks have been hoarding for years. The move happened in 2012 with the team taking the name Brooklyn Nets and choosing black and white uniforms. They would play in the Barclays Center. Prokhorov and company were hoping that a genuine Brooklyn atmosphere would form in the arena and that it would play a big part in motivating the players.
The Nets started the 2012/2013 season strong. Led by their coach Avery Johnson and All-Star center Brook Lopez, the team finished 4th in the Eastern Conference with a record of 49-33. They didn’t go far in the playoffs as they lost to the Chicago Bulls in the first round, but they forced the series to a game 7 decider after trailing 3-1.
However, there was definite progress in their first season in Brooklyn. The arena was full, the fans were more supportive, and there was a spark to the team that had been missing for a long, long time. Prokhorov was sure the franchise was on the right track, so next year, he went all-in by acquiring Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.
Two of the biggest legends in NBA at that time were sure to give the team a further lift. They didn’t start the campaign too well, however, and their regular season was actually worse than the previous year as the franchise only managed to clinch the 6th seed in the East.
There was, however, hope that when the big games came, Garnett and Pierce would make a difference. And it did happen to an extent.
The Nets reached the semifinals after eliminating Toronto, but the packed Miami Heat proved too big an obstacle and smashed them in five games. The Heat went on to lose the final to the San Antonio Spurs, and it was exactly those two teams that were head and shoulders above the rest that year.
Brooklyn did try to compete, but it was evident that they were nowhere near this level.
So how do you combat Gregg Popovich and his brand of team basketball?
By appointing one of his apprentices as general manager, of course.
Prokhorov felt that the franchise would not reach the top by simply adding superstars to the roster. Something else was needed, and he found the perfect man to deliver it.
Sean Marks and the Nets Transformation
Appointing Sean Marks as GM was a clear sign of change in direction. Marks held the assistant general manager position at Spurs and jumped at the chance to implement his ideas in Brooklyn. Right from the start, it was clear Marks was a man with a plan. He had a clear vision of what he wanted to do and had the backing of the owner.
It has to be said that he inherited one of the biggest messes in NBA history. The Nets held no valuable assets to trade, nor did they have any picks to offer.
It was believed that the franchise was on the up, but there was no concrete method which would help them optimize their resources and become a relevant playoff team.
That is why Marks’ appointment did bring hope to the fans, but most of them were not overly enthusiastic as they knew he would have a mountain to climb before the team turned successful.
The new GM didn’t waste any time when he took the reins in 2016 and immediately laid out his priorities in front of the media.
The Nets would rely on developing young talent and creating a system that would improve every player who put the team first. He made it clear that acquiring top talent alone would not be sufficient because they were aiming to create a cohesive unit, and superstars can sometimes wreck that chemistry.
Sound familiar? Well, that is the exact replica of the model that the Spurs have been following in the Popovich/R.C. Buford era. It’s hardly a surprise that someone who had played for Pop and was then tutored by Buford would hold the same ideals.
It sounded bold back then to rely on someone with no real GM experience to carry out such a plan, but the Nets were desperate, and Marks was looking very confident he could do the job.
Right from the start, Marks was exhibiting some of Popovich’s most notable trends. He was cagey when talking to the media about draft prospects, game tactics, and all sorts of other stuff. This is a page taken right out of the Spurs playbook.
Marks doesn’t want other people to know what he’s working on and tries to create an atmosphere where his players feel protected and the pressure is on him. That’s because he knows he can handle it and handle it well.
Now, if you’re not familiar with how the Nets fared between 2016 and 2018, you are probably thinking that Marks and the coach of his choice, Kenny Atkinson, immediately torpedoed the Brooklyn franchise to the Finals and had them competing at the very top.
The truth is that the Nets actually did a lot worse in that period than they had before. They were far from qualifying for the playoffs in each of the three seasons and didn’t even manage to get to 30 wins.
So how did they get to where they are now? Simple. This may sound a bit cliché, but such a program takes time to bear fruit.
The curious thing about this period was that there was no actual panic in the Barclays Center. The team wasn’t making the playoffs, but the crowds were still pouring in, and the players felt relaxed. It was nothing like the struggles that the Bulls, Knicks, and Kings were enduring.
The Nets were not going to win anything, but there was a feeling that they were going places despite the fact that they were finishing in the bottom spots.
Fast forward to the 2018-2019 season, and the Nets were starting their campaign with players like Jarrett Allen, D’Angelo Russell, Caris LeVert, and Spencer Dinwiddie. These four did not just fall from the sky. They were all products of Marks’ masterful thinking when it comes to the draft and trading players and picks.
Allen was acquired with a first-round pick that was taken from the Washington Wizards. LeVert was drafted with another first-round pick after Marks decided to flip Thaddeus Young to the Pacers. But the former Spurs executive was not only focusing on drafts and trades.
Being a long-time student of R.C. Buford, Marks knows how important it is to constantly look for young talent that might fall under the radar. After all, he has witnessed first-hand what players like Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, and Kawhi Leonard have done in San Antonio.
This approach is what prompted him to give a chance to Spencer Dinwiddie.
A virtual unknown in the league, Dinwiddie’s only notable achievement was winning the skills contest during the All-Star weekend in 2017. The guy was practically at G-League level when he was picked but has turned into a legitimate rising star in the NBA. He can both play the sixth man and score from the bench and slot in as a starting point guard.
Speaking of point guards, arguably the biggest success story of the Marks-Atkinson tandem is their capture and development of D’Angelo Russell. The GM understood the need to bring in a quality starting point guard and knew that his only trade asset was Brook Lopez.
The Lakers were looking for a big man, and Magic Johnson wanted to get rid of Timofey Mozgov and ship out Russell as he was accused of causing trouble in the locker room.
To be fair, Russell did look a bit misguided back then. The expectations were high, and he didn’t prove the leader he was supposed to be. And the Lakers fans are notorious for letting you know when they feel you’re not performing at the level they want you to.
Marks saw a chance to get a player who would be eager to prove himself and be willing to work for the team.
Although they lost Lopez in that deal and had to give out a pick, I still think it was a shrewd piece of business from the Nets, albeit a bit risky.
Maybe it’s easier to say that now when Russell is coming off a magnificent season and was picked for the All-Star game, but this is no fluke. Everything Marks has done in the past four years has been planned.
The way he handles the media, the development of the players, the tactics, and every decision on drafts and trades has been done in accordance with the big-picture plan. It was a bumpy road for a couple of years, but now, after the capture of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, we can all put our hands up and give Sean Marks the praise he deserves.
Some may say, “Hey, wait a minute! You said that he didn’t rely on bringing in superstars to make the team successful!”
That is partly true, but it’s also true that the Nets are not the San Antonio Spurs. Yes, Marks works the same way as R.C. Buford does, and his relationship to the coach and how they handle different aspects within the club are identical to how Buford and Pop do it.
However, New York is a different market, and this needs to be utilized. Let’s be honest; Kevin Durant would never in a million years go to San Antonio. It’s not because he doesn’t like Pop or his brand of basketball; it’s just not his type of place. He is one of the best players in the world, and those guys have the luxury to pick.
Marks knows this quite well, and pulling off these deals is one of the biggest cherries on top in NBA history. He started from the bottom and built up the franchise to a point where they can afford to lure two of the most elite players in the league.
A few years ago, Kyrie and KD would have most definitely chosen the Knicks if they wanted to go to New York. Even with all their problems, there was no way that such players would choose the Nets. That is exactly how far the franchise has gone in just four short years.
Of course, there had to be a casualty in all this. D’Angelo Russell looks bound for the Golden State Warriors, so the Nets are practically losing an All-Star level player which they created.
But let’s look at it in a different way. Russell was always a risk, but if it worked out, the Nets would have a big trade asset in him.
After all, the guy was the second overall pick in the draft, and everyone knows there is huge potential there.
If he played well for the Nets, teams would say that his torrid time with the Lakers was not his fault, so there are bound to be suitors for him. And I think in these circumstances, the deal for Russell is again a stroke of genius from Marks.
They got to have KD, who is arguably the best player in the NBA when fully fit and made the Warriors give out a future first-round pick for a point guard that, albeit very talented, has had only one good season in the league. And don’t forget, the Nets have Spencer Dinwiddie already familiar with the team and lined up to take over. Sean Marks — you, sir, have won the NBA!
Brooklyn Nets Odds for the 2019-2020 Season
After going through all the things that made the Brooklyn Nets into championship hopefuls, let’s see what the best NBA betting sites think of their chances for glory next season.
Brooklyn Nets to Make the Playoffs (Yes)-666
Brooklyn Nets to Make the Playoffs (No)+475
Brooklyn Nets to Win the NBA Championship+2000
The odds above are courtesy of Betway. It’s quite clear that the bookmakers (and most sane people) are expecting the Nets to make the playoffs again.
Even with KD and Kyrie’s fitness worries, the odds for them missing the postseason should be way higher for me to even entertain the idea of betting on that. So why not place an early wager on the Nets winning the title?
I’m serious. Hear me out.
They got one of the best players in the world and one of the top point guards who is entering the prime years of his career.
Yes, Durant is injured, and we’re not sure what his form will be when he returns. But let’s be honest — KD is a hooper. For all his downsides, the guy is a monster, and his top priority in life is to be fit and play basketball. Durant will come good again; you can be sure of that.
Kyrie is another matter.
On top of his own injury problems, he has been a bit inconsistent. But there is one thing that sticks out about his future situation with the Nets. Kyrie was drafted by Cleveland and was then traded to Boston. He didn’t pick either of those two teams. He ended up there because of how the league works. Now, Kyrie CHOSE the Nets.
He could’ve gone anywhere, but he chose Brooklyn and teaming up with Durant. It was his desire, and this is the first time he has done it in his career. Knowing a bit about how Irving functions, I would bet that this is exactly the situation he wants to be in. He wants someone like KD to lead the line and be on a team which he himself has picked.
So, that’s all good, but which teams will be the main obstacles to the crown? Obviously, the Raptors and the Bucks will need to be cleared first. Toronto waved goodbye to Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, and I don’t think they will be able to replicate the same form even if they bring in another elite player.
The only reason they won the championship is Kawhi. He was all over the court. He was clutch and led by example throughout the playoffs. Few players can accomplish this, and I don’t see any of them joining the Raptors anytime soon.
Milwaukee tied up Khris Middleton and will definitely be a formidable force, but they lack experience in the playoffs. Sure, they will be one year wiser, but can Giannis, Middleton, and Lopez go against this Nets roster and win a playoff series? Not if Brooklyn has their full strength at their disposal.
The Golden State Warriors will be rebuilding. They lost KD and Iguodala, who is also a big, big loss for them. He has been the unsung hero of the Warriors’ recent playoff crunch games and will be very hard to replace.
The Lakers sound scary with LeBron and Anthony Davis, but there are so many problems there right now.
How will the roster look? Can they bring in another top player? What will the atmosphere be with all the commotion around the coach and management?
It’s just not a happy place, and although they have two of the best players in the NBA, they will need a lot more in order to challenge for the title.
Plus, who is to say that LeBron and AD will work? Both have huge egos and have had problems with partnerships in the past.
Possibly the greatest threat will come from the Clippers, who managed to convince Kawhi to come to LA and speak to Paul George about getting OKC to trade him there.
They pulled it off, and for me, this was an epic power move from the Clippers. They now have the Klaw and PG, who for me are the best two-way players in the game. They have a great GM and a hall of fame level coach.
They will be a formidable force, and it’s no wonder that the odds for them winning the championship have dropped to +300.
Yet I’m not convinced these odds represent good value. Yes, the team will have no problem reaching the playoffs and will most definitely compete for the title. However, they do have a history of underachieving even with some of the best players around.
Whereas Brooklyn steadily built up their chances, the Clippers simply took two of the best available players on the market. I’m not saying it’s not a hugely impressive deal, but there are still things behind the scenes that the Clippers will need to take care of.
There is still a lot of time before the season starts, and I expect a lot more movement, but I am quite excited by the odds for the Nets winning the championship. Stranger things have happened in the past, and I can only envisage the odds for them dropping from now on.
And at +2000, you have yourself quite the deal.
This wraps up my look at the Nets’ rise and what they can achieve next season. Obviously, it’s really tough to say if they can go all the way, but it sounds like a logical conclusion for them to win the title at some point. They had a plan, stuck to it, and are now a genuine force with a brilliant team of executives in place and the picks to improve even more.
It will be a turbulent summer for most franchises, and I expect next season will be nothing like the last one, so why not back the team that showed intelligence by laying strong foundations and will now be enjoying the fruits of their labor?
In any case, feel free to leave a comment in the section below and tell me your thoughts on the Nets and how far they can go.