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By Michael Aleksandrov and Jeff Pratt – Summer Staff Writers
Just a few years ago, the Brooklyn Nets were the laughing stock of the NBA. Four straight seasons with a losing record and no top draft picks to show for it will certainly do that to a franchise. However, the Nets were somehow able to turn things around in a relatively quick fashion, and now stand as a true title contender in the Eastern Conference. So, how exactly did the Nets transform from one of the worst teams in the NBA into the stacked roster they boast today?
Poor Front Office Decisions
Towards the end of the 2000s, the New Jersey Nets were a shell of their former selves. While the team had made the Finals in 2002 and 2003, they had not made the playoffs since 2007. The Nets played in an aging concrete monstrosity known as the Prudential Center. They ranked in the bottom of attendance for years. Nothing was exciting about them. Then, in 2010, a glimmer of hope came in the form of Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov. The businessman bought the team for $200 million. Prokorov immediately established that he wanted to move the team to Brooklyn. Construction on a new arena began immediately. He didn’t want the team to just look new. Prokorhov wanted a revampment of the roster to make the team an instant contender. The front office was given the green light on any deal to help the team reach this goal. In 2011, recently hired GM Billy King traded Derrick Favors, Devin Harris, and his 2011 & 2013 first round picks to the Utah Jazz for Deron Williams. It was thought Williams could establish a one-two punch with star center Brook Lopez. In 2012, to further reinforce the roster, Gerald Wallace was acquired for the Nets 2012 first round pick. Just two months later, a package including the Nets 2013 first was doled out for Joe Johnson. In the Nets’ first season in Brooklyn in 2012-13 , the team made the first round of the NBA playoffs. However, they were knocked out in 7 games by the Chicago Bulls. Going into season two in Brooklyn, there was immense pressure on the team.
The Nets were still considered little brother to the New York Knicks and their star, Carmelo Anthony. The sparkling new Barclays Center was struggling to fill seats. The Nets pulled off a draft-night trade with the Celtics in 2013 where the team would receive Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Jason Terry for Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, MarShon Brooks, Keith Bogans, Kris Joseph and three first round picks with a pick-swap in 2017. Garnett and Pierce, while All-Stars throughout their careers, were all near forty and regressing heavily. The trade ballooned Brooklyn’s cap to the highest in the league and Nets legend Jason Kidd was brought on to coach the team for the 2013-14 season. That year, the Nets would only make it to the Conference Semifinals. They fell to the Miami Heat in 5 games.
In the offseason, the Nets made possibly their best trade of the Billy King era, shipping coach Jason Kidd to the Bucks for two second-round picks. The Nets would make the playoffs in 2014-15 for the last time until 2019. After that season, the Nets lost both Joe Johnson and Deron Williams. They entered the cellar of the NBA, as they had no assets and no draft picks to rebuild with. They watched as many of the picks they had traded became stars. In 2011, Utah used the Nets’ #3 pick to select Enes Kanter. Others available at that spot included Kawhi, Kemba, and Klay Thompson. The 2012 pick to Portland became Damian Lillard. The myriad of picks sent to Boston had helped the team secure Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. The 2018 pick was a pivotal piece in the Kyrie Irving trade as it appeared at the time as if the team would take at least a decade to recover from the full effects of King’s decisions.
Revamping the Front Office
On January 10th, 2016, Brooklyn fired Billy King in the midst of yet another pitiful season. It was only a matter of time, but the Nets were finally rid of the man who orchestrated the worst trade in NBA history. King’s legacy would forever be haunted by that trade, but a new era was on the horizon in Brooklyn.
Enter: Sean Marks. On February 18th, the Nets signed Marks to a four-year as their new General Manager. Marks quickly went to work at turning the Nets’ — who were an abysmal 114-40 at the time of his hiring — franchise. The Nets were aggressive with restricted free agents, while also swinging veterans on their roster — like Bojan Bogdanovic — for first round picks to replenish their empty draft capital. Marks continued to draft well and make effective trades, and he played an enormous role in transforming Brooklyn into the championship contender it is today.
Acquisitions of Overlooked Talent
Speaking of Sean Marks, he was the mastermind behind a myriad of smaller moves that really paid off for the organization. Marks consistently targeted players that flew under the radar of other teams, bringing them in for next-to-nothing and turning them into extremely productive players. The first notable move of this kind that the Nets made was signing Spencer Dinwiddie. Dinwiddie was drafted in the second round of the 2014 NBA Draft, and spent the majority of his first two seasons in the G-League. After being waived by the Bulls in 2016, Dinwiddie signed a three year, $2.9 million contract with the Nets. He has steadily improved each year, and is currently averaging 20.6 points per game in the 2019-20 regular season. Dinwiddie signed a three year, $34 million extension last year, and will continue to dominate for cheap in Brooklyn.
Brooklyn also hit on two picks in the late-first-round of back-to-back drafts. In 2016, the Nets traded Thaddeus Young to the Indiana Pacers for the 20th overall pick in the draft, Caris Levert. While Levert has struggled with injuries, when healthy he is a key piece in Brooklyn’s offense, averaging 17.7 points per game this year. Levert signed a three year, $52.5 million extension with the Nets, solidifying his place as an essential part of their future. In 2017, Brooklyn struck gold in the late-first again by taking Jarret Allen with the 22nd overall pick. While “The Fro” is known for his emphatic blocks, he has been a very solid, complete player for Brooklyn in his three years with the team
Finally, the Nets took a chance on D’Angelo Russell when his value was at its lowest, trading Timofey Mozgov, Brook Lopez and the 27th overall pick of the 2017 draft for the former #2 overall pick. Russell immediately shined in Brooklyn, averaging 21.1 points per game in his first fully-healthy season with the team and leading them to the playoffs for the first time since 2015.
Landing the Big Fish
In the 2019 offseason, Brooklyn shocked the NBA world. While many predicted a super-team in New York, other pundits missed the location of it by about 5 miles. The Nets traded D’Angelo Russell to Golden State for 2015 MVP Kevin Durant and a first-rounder. It was also announced that a disgruntled Kyrie Irving would be leaving Boston to sign with the team. The signing of defensive center DeAndre Jordan was merely the icing on the cake for the team. Additionally, Brooklyn finally ended the Prokhorov era. Canadian Joe Tsai bought the majority stake of the team and its arena in late 2019. For the 2019-20 season, the Nets were without Durant the entire year as he recovered from a ruptured Achilles. However, Brooklyn showed their prowess with Irving and Jordan on the floor on several occasions. This was until Irving had season-ending shoulder surgery. Should the NBA Playoffs occur this year, both stars are expected to be back for a deep run.
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