The Brooklyn Nets could not have ended lastseason in a more sour way. By the time the final whistle blew, they look exhausted and deflated. The Nets leaving the 2022 playoffs in that fashion was a tremendous embarrassment for the team, the front office, the Nets fan base, and fans of the NBA. No matter whom you cheer for and support, you want to see the best players in the biggest games. The Nets being swept in the first round just felt wrong. They were one year removed from Kevin Durant’s shoe size being the only thing that could stop them. To be dismissed and thrown away so easily, had to be a difficult pill to swallow.
Brooklyn Nets Kyrie Irving speaks on His decision to come back & KD trade Request pic.twitter.com/4eR4cnzZp5
— NetsKingdom 👑🗽 (@NetsKingdomAJ) September 26, 2022
2021-2022 Record: 44-38 (7th in the Eastern Conference)
2021-2022 Home record: 20-21
2021-2022 Road record: 24-17
Strength of schedule rank: 18/32
Kevin Durant: The best pure scorer in the NBA is Kevin Durant. I cannot define a pure scorer, but just know that he is. Durant is gifted beyond measure and does things with the ball in his hands that only he can do. No man of his height has ever been more talented offensively. KD looked exhausted at the season’s end, though. He was very tired and zonked. Partly due to the lack of support from his counterpart, Kyrie Irving. His co-closer was a part-time player, due to his refusal to get vaccinated. James Harden rarely took the big shot at the end of the game, putting all the pressure on Durant. When Kyrie was in the lineup, Durant was allowed some relief. When Harden left the team and the Nets played at home, again the pressure was on KD.
Stephen A. Smith had this to say about Kevin Durant:
“There is no way in hell I don’t have LeBron James and Kevin Durant out of my top 5… Ain’t no way in hell 5 players in the world are better than LeBron James and Kevin Durant. That is impossible!”
Kyrie Irving: Pairing Durant with the best ball handler and an elite scorer in his own right is a tremendous advantage over the other Eastern Conference teams. Now imagine having him the entire season. Kyrie on the court each night will allow Durant to rest and relieve pressure. Sure, KD will be counted on to regularly produce, but the constant presence of another playmaker will change everything.
Ben Simmons: Do not get it twisted, this team will not compete for a championship unless Simmons has conquered his demons and taken the court. Much ado was made about his inability to make three-pointers and his gun-shy moments in the clutch. Let’s all agree that is not why Brooklyn traded for him. Simmons will be a huge help defending every inch of the court and is an above-average rebounder. He is also a very capable passer.
Patty Mills: The veteran you did not know you needed until he is gone. Ask the San Antonio Spurs, who felt the lack of experience in their play-in game last season. Mills, now in his second season with Brooklyn, is the steady, outside-shooting presence the Nets need. Mills saw an increase of five minutes per game last season from his last season with San Antonio; averaging 29 minutes per game in the 2021-22 campaign – scoring 11 points per game, while assisting and rebounding at 2 per game. Mills has positioned himself as a real factor and the perfect complement for this Nets team.
The dysfunctional family needs therapy: None of us can say what was happening after the Nets were swept, or what has since been discussed that led Durant and Irving to seek escape from the city of Brooklyn. We can say that there was a big disconnect. As recently as Monday, September 26th, Durant cleared the air and spoke openly about his role in it. Some interpreted this as bold and vulnerable – the truth, or some form of it. Why either player would want to separate when they are close friends is unknown, but most assume the coaching and front office were a factor.
Steve Nash is no longer a player; therefore, his contribution cannot be making one player good at a time: A true point guard and facilitator, Nash was the 2x MVP and best of the best in his day. Those same skills made him a logical choice to coach a team. Granted, a team of All-Stars means a team of egos, but most assumed Nash could manage it. He can, but whatever was happening in the offseason, he better get a handle on it quickly. If the team experiences the same struggles as it did during the 2021-22 regular season, Nash will be on the hot seat. He must find a way to motivate this team holistically, not just one player at a time.
The most improved player year will be Nic Claxton: After being a reserve for most of his career, Claxton is now atop the center depth chart and will play many more minutes in 2022-23 than he did the previous season. Claxton is a big body that gets around and under the rim. His athleticism is impressive. He shot north of 65% last season and averaged one rebound for every four minutes he was on the court. Scale those numbers to a full-time starter’s role. This will be the coming out party for Claxton.
Brooklyn Nets Projected Starting 5
Point Guard: Kyrie Irving
Shooting Guard: Joe Harris
Small Forward: Kevin Durant
Power Forward: Ben Simmons
Center: Nic Claxton
There are few things I am looking forward to as much as watching the Big 2, and eventually Big 3 compete on the same floor at once. If Durant and Irving are as good as they should be, it does not matter what Steve Nash does.
The speculation around Simmons has been rampant since the situation started to blowup in Philadelphia. A lot of unwanted attention has only made it tougher for him to take the court. The longer he waits, the more heavily scrutinized his first game action will be. Whenever he decides he is healthy and well enough to take that step, it will be must-see TV. He just needs to grind and work hard and does not need to carry the team. Simmons is in the best possible role player/superstar position. If he is well mentally and physically, that will be huge for the Nets.
The fantasy implications are exactly what you would expect. Durant is the most valuable player on the team. Depending on Simmons’ minutes’ contribution, he may be a better get than Irving. Aside from the vaccination issue, Irving has been known to miss games for personal reasons. Barring injury, once back on the court, Simmons is less likely to miss time than Kyrie. When Kyrie is in, he is magical. Claxton is a player who will outshine his ADP. The same can be said for Mills.
Finally, this team at full strength is the most talented starting 5 in the East, by a narrow margin over Boston and Philadelphia. The sting of last year’s exit is still there. Durant and Irving have something to prove. For a completely different set of circumstances, Simmons has plenty to prove as well. Joe Harris and Claxton are happy to be along for the ride. The softer schedule and minimized expectations set up nicely for Brooklyn to make some noise.
Regular season: 50 – 32 – 3rd seed in the East
Postseason: Wins the NBA Championship