The Brooklyn Nets were widely considered in NBA betting circles to be one of the best teams in the league when the season began.
That’s even after faltering in last season’s playoffs as a favorite.
However, what has transpired in the months since has been nothing short of shocking and has led to questions about the future of the franchise from every angle.
A team with the potent trio of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden slowly unravelled due to a lengthy injury to Durant, Irving being a part-time player at best for most of the year due to his refusal to get vaccinated, and Harden being traded to Philadelphia for a new set of problems named Ben Simmons.
Coach Steve Nash was originally hired at the behest of Durant and Irving, with the notion a former All-Star and Hall of Fame player could best manage eccentric egos.
The Nets struggled in home games and had to make it through the play-in round to advance in the playoffs.
Still, that vast potential and the presence of Durant, had oddsmakers figuring a tough series with Boston was in store. Caesars Sportsbook New York had the Nets as a close +125 underdog and the Celtics a narrow -145 favorite.
Unfortunately, when it came to the playoffs, Nash looked out of his depth and was often outcoached. Now, the wait begins to see if the struggling head coach sees out another season on the sideline or returns to his post-NBA life and engages back with his love for soccer.
Let’s take a look at what went wrong and what lies ahead.
What About the Stars?
According to both Durant and Irving, the pair will remain in Brooklyn next season. They both do not envision themselves being moved by the team’s front office and sound like they want to right the wrongs of this past year.
But things aren’t so simple. Despite being the clear-cut best player in the series, Durant finally looked his age, as he struggled with Boston’s physicality and speed. And that now has given teams a blueprint on how to stifle one of the greatest scorers the game ever has seen.
Irving finds himself under a magnifying glass for his inability to complete a full season and questions are being asked about his commitment to the sport. We all can look past this year, as Irving made a personal choice regarding his vaccination status — which is his given right and should be respected.
But in the last 246 regular season games, the enigmatic guard has participated in just 103 — less than 50%. For a hooper such as Durant, who lives and breathes basketball, there’s a slight risk he becomes disillusioned with Irving as his co-star, and there’s only going to be one winner in that power struggle.
The Remaining Roster
Brooklyn’s downfall was the fact their roster was top-heavy with talent, and their third star, the newly acquired Simmons, showed no desire to put on a basketball jersey and lace up his sneakers. As such, we can expect some moves around the fringes of this team.
Veterans such as Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge are likely to be shown the exit door, while younger, two-way players will be on the agenda. An example of a player who could be a great fit with the team is Malik Monk from the Los Angeles Lakers. Monk will be a free agent this summer and would only cost the mid-level exception should the Nets have interest in a sharpshooting wing who can also defend.
Seeking Solutions for Future
Beyond getting younger and adding versatility, the Nets also should assess where Simmons is at, both physically and mentally. If Simmons doesn’t plan on playing again next season, the Nets need to find a way of getting off his contract and freeing up some cap space to chase another high-level contributor.
The fact of the matter is, Brooklyn’s finances are geared toward three stars and a bunch of role players chasing a ring. If one of those stars decides to sit out the year, the season is dead before it even begins. We saw that to a degree this season, when Harden and Durant were trying to keep things afloat.
It was those struggles, without Irving, that began to sew the seeds of discourse for Harden in the first place. As the team’s struggles began to mount and Durant began to miss time due to injury, Harden decided to cut bait. It was at that point the Sixers and general manager Daryl Morey decided to try their luck and off-load Simmons in return for Harden — with the hope of pairing “The Beard” with Joel Embiid.
The trade eventually happened, and the Nets added Seth Curry, who will be an integral part moving forward. But Simmons never suited up and the Nets never recovered from losing their third star.
If the front office doubles down on the current roster and banks on continuity, they’re going to run into trouble, because an aging roster with a bench of single-skill specialists isn’t enough to bring tangible success in the modern NBA — just look at how the Boston Celtics went about their business this season, and how easily they dismantled Brooklyn for proof of that concept.
The Nets were swept by a Boston team on a roll.
In fact, PointsBet Sportsbook New York is making the Celtics a -200 favorite to beat the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks in the next round.
In the end, one bad postseason series doesn’t equate to players losing their powers. Ben Simmons is a needle mover for this franchise, as is a healthy and engaged Irving. Throw in some new blood off the bench, preferably with some youth and determination, and things look better.
If the Nets make smart offseason moves they will be considered genuine contenders again next year. Perhaps not with the same odds as this season, but within touching distance for sure.