The Nets’ Superteam Nightmare Is Finally Over
For about two years, the Brooklyn Nets were the most seductive superteam in NBA history. At their peak (which lasted for about two weeks in the spring of 2021), they had the most effective offense of all time. Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving were in harmony in a heavily insulated system that allowed each to complement each other. There were intervals, movement, and endless shots.
Come back and see how they crushed the Celtics in the first round in their first season together. It was the next great NBA dynasty born right before our eyes. Of course, it’s notable that this is the only playoff series they’ve actually won together. Due to injuries to Harden and Irving, this run ended much sooner than it otherwise could have. And then, well, well, a bunch of things – mostly related to Irving’s habitual need to set fire to any franchise he works for – happened.
Harden then wanted to leave, and the Nets traded him for a version of Ben Simmons, who didn’t play for eight months. Duran then wanted to leave. The Nets then fired Steve Nash. And then, after a great offseason in which they amassed the largest collection of shooters ever on any basketball team, Irving made another trade request, and here we are.
It goes without saying that with Durant and Irving gone in one week, the Nets are no longer a championship contender. This four-year period is over. Some might call a superteam a pipe dream. Others, an inevitable nightmare. Whatever the case, the Nets are about to enter the first day of a new era, going back for a complete overhaul, looking for the exact type of talent that just walked out the door. (If you see guest star Cam Thomas on a future episode Last of usDo not be surprised.)
But they are not the Sixers from The Process, nor are they like the Thunder tank teams we’ve seen in the past few years. It’s weird to look at these starless Nets and see a group that can make the playoffs and give some of the higher seeds an immediate headache, but – unless they move from some of the next names to more draft capital (which isn’t not very smart guess!) — that’s who they are now.
Mikal Bridges, Nick Claxton, Cam Johnson, Spencer Dinwiddie, Royce O’Neal, Dorian Finney-Smith, Joe Harris, Thomas (who miraculously hit 40-plus in his last three games) and Jay Crowder are all good to varying degrees. . great at what they do. The Nets still have holes in the frontcourt and are desperate for a ball handler — Simmons is the only player on their roster who has ever made an All-Star team, and now he’s way overdue — but Brooklyn isn’t starts at six. feet under.
And this before we get all the draft capital they have now. The Nets have no first-round picks of their own in 2024 and 2026 thanks to the aforementioned Harden trade. But after deals with Irving and Durant, they have unprotected first place finishes from the Phoenix in 2023, 2025, 2027 and 2029, an unprotected first place finish from the Mavericks in 2029, a top eight protected picks from the Sixers in 2027 (thanks to another Harden trade) and their own first round elections in 2023, 2025, 2027 and beyond. (Right now they can’t trade their own pre-2028 picks, but their 2030 pick will be available for trade this summer.)
There are far too many pick exchanges out there to even keep track of, but the bottom line is that Brooklyn has effectively become the East Coast version of the Utah Jazz. It can be a solid $0.500 team up front. Cheerful, cute, devoid of any real headaches, able to work on two different timelines. The Nets can develop their staff (Claxton and Bridges are very good) and engage in any potential superstar deals as soon as another one comes along.
They can also see themselves as a way station, having made that trade with Durant hours before Thursday’s deadline. Brooklyn has essentially taken over the 3D wings market, and they may be in extremely high demand with several postseason contenders. The Nuggets, Cavaliers, Bucks, Grizzlies, Warriors, Heat and Hawks should try to get in the game.
(The Raptors definitely can’t be happy with this development, knowing it could undermine their OG Anunoby price.)
In the end, Brooklyn will also try to clear its books. This astronomical tax bill no longer makes sense. And that team still has no place in the cap next summer thanks to big money deals guaranteed to Simmons, Bridges and others. (Johnson is a restricted free agent whose future is a total draw.)
In other words, the dust has not settled. Not even close. The Nets are in the middle of a major, gradual, and painful transition. How they will look tomorrow, one can only guess. But they also don’t have to deal with the stress they took lightly back in 2019. The banner of the championship is still very far away. But it will be interesting to see which path this organization takes on its way back to trying to elevate it.