Jayson, it’s an early Monday evening here in New York City and I feel like hammered shit because we both drank too much last night. But I did win an adjusted money line bet on LeBron’s team in last night’s All Star game, and I just ordered an entire quart of wonton soup with sparerib tips and pork fried rice on Seamless, and I’m already back in the saddle with what our old friend Tom Wambsgam might describe as an incredibly cold and crisp glass of white wine, so I suppose you have to take the good with the bad in life. Speaking of which, I’m tired of complaining about our stubborn asshole coach and Joe needs us to create some content for the site during this brief midseason respite from basketball, so I thought we could indulge in a hypothetical thought experiment.
It was only three years ago that Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving becoming Knicks seemed a fait accompli. The press was charting their vacation plans and reading lips, the Knicks were manically freeing up cap space including a trade many were quick to lambast the front office for but we can now acknowledge that we definitively won with the Dallas Mavericks, and the sky was the limit as we dared to dream of a better tomorrow.
But of course, that’s not how it worked out. The dynamic duo of moody weirdos went to Brooklyn, a franchise they chose for its team culture, its promising young overachieving core, its savvy front office and its feisty young coach holding it all together, and they promptly gutted the entire team and remade it in their image. But the team failed upwards, putting together what may have been the greatest core of players ever assembled by adding James Harden, another all time moody weirdo to the mix, and even with Harden playing hurt and Kyrie out they came within a Durant toe of a possible championship last season.
But now Harden is gone, replaced with an incredible fourth moody weirdo in Ben Simmons, Kyrie is watching Dr. Sebi YouTube documentaries and hawking sea moss when he’s not playing for his team, which is often, and there’s a chance this squad never gets a ring, and finds itself capped out without much of a future ahead of it on the other side of life without these jerkoffs. So it got me thinking, as absurd as it sounds on its face, is there a chance you wouldn’t want the mess that has been the last few years of the Brooklyn Nets with their enigmatic stars? Aside from being annoyed I grew up in Connecticut or Jersey, I’d be extremely pissed off and tired of the constant onslaught of shenanigans at this point if I were a Nets fan. What do you think?
The best chance they had was last season. Harden, Kyrie, and Durant were relatively in harmony. Kyrie’s problem with the vaccine wasn’t yet a national topic. Durant hadn’t had another injury. Harden was still motivated. If I were the Nets fan, I would try to understand that teams that are supposed to be dynasties have less of a window than they did in the 90’s. One of the many lies that Michael Jordan’s reign created is that dynasties like that are possible. The Warriors found it out, when Durant tore his Achilles on that Toronto floor in Game Five. The Miami Heat found out that “not one, not two, not three, not four” was misguided; even the greatest of players can be stopped by the greatest European of all-time and a mechanical and long-armed cyborg. The Brooklyn Nets had one year to do it and they got unlucky. The physical health issues that plague Harden and Kyrie their whole careers came back to bite them. Durant couldn’t do it alone. Giannis’s Bucks reigned supreme and the yuppies that go to Nets games had to tell their dates that next season would be the “one.”
Would I want that mess? No. But they still have Kevin Wayne Durant, a impeccable player who can get to his spot on the floor better than anyone in the game. To see Durant is to see a superstar. A real one superstar is not someone that a fanbase wishes could be. He’s a system into himself, a guy who you can feed the ball to and can lead a team to the top of the east with his line drive jumper and lanky arms that go against the grain of what perimeter players typically are. Durant is a phenomenon who is also a grizzled veteran. If he is healthy and Eric Adams takes a bribe from Adam Silver to ensure that Kyrie’s hotep-ness won’t get the best of him, then the Nets could ride a freshly healthy Durant to the Finals with Ben Simmons. To make a long post short, I would still trade our issues — a terrible coach, a lack of stars, a faux-deep roster, and young players that I’m not bullish on — for the issues that the Nets have. The Nets have issues, but it’s the issue of the devil that you know, as opposed to the confusion and oversaturation of the Knicks.
Jay it’s so important you remember that when all 38 Net fans in the tri-state area moved here at the same time in 2014 after five years at Tufts, Wesleyan, or Oberlin and immediately bought brownstones with family money on the same block in Cobble Hill on Henry Street, the Nets were a lost, poverty franchise. They were Brook Lopez and guys who worked part-time at the Burrito Bar, they had given every draft pick in franchise history and the rights to swap firstborn sons with GM Billy King to the Celtics and they were the laughingstock of the league. What they have pulled off since, is, with the exception of the Golden State Warriors, the most stunning franchise turn in the history of the modern era of the league. As you say, they have a pair of superstars and a third they’ve added to the relationship that is near the envy of the league. This should be the Nets in a walk, a laugher, it isn’t close. But. But.
I grew up with the 90s Yankees dynasty and as a result, my approach to team building, what I value most in sports is organic, homegrown talent. I love a good young nucleus, watching them grow up together, form bonds and chemistry on court. Thibs is not long for this team, but I truly love our six young guys, four of which were drafted in the last two years. Are they all going to make it, to be in our lives for the next decade or maybe even become viable NBA players? Probably not. Does this team, as constituted, have a prayer at winning a championship? Also no. Was I shouting at our friend Marc that Grimes has the potential to become a poor man’s Klay Thompson and Obi could mature into a poor man’s Amare Stoudamire on Washington Avenue last night? Yes. Yes I was.
And this is a joy the Nets more or less punted on when they traded Jarrett Allen for a change purse filled with magic beans. They’re a pirate ship. A cadre of mercenaries with no connection to the land, or blood in the soil. It’s so appropriate that Kyrie literally by law can’t play in New York. I can’t think of a more apt metaphor for how unlikeable, un-loveable their team is. We need to add a star, perhaps even two, and that may cost us the core I’m describing so lovingly, and when the opportunity presents itself, for the right one, I’d support it wholeheartedly. But what I’d prefer is we give these guys a chance to coalesce, build through the draft, and win the way the Warriors did, and the Bucks did. We don’t yet have the generational talents that won them their rings, but we have the foundation in place, and that’s something the Nets lose with an injury, or a bullshit trade demand, or Kyrie going on sabbatical to cobble leather thong sandals in a hut on a beach in Bali.
This strikes me as ambitious and antithetical to what we’ve seen so far this season. Yes, Thibs is Ebenezer Scrooge and a poor man’s Larry Brown all in one, but players are still the ultimate deciders of their output and some of our young guys not named Quentin Grimes have had low moments this season. Quickley, who I was once dreamed about being Patty Mills-like, is not like that at all. He isn’t a net positive player if he isn’t shooting well. Same with Obi, who should play more, but still might only be Stromile Swift with New York ties. RJ Barrett, is the best under-23 player we have, and I still have questions about his consistency as long as his shot is only mediocre. RJ can get downhill with the best of them and has a shot, but if you look at a guy like Miami’s Jimmy Butler for example, Jimmy is always in control. He’s adept at everything and can control the pace of the game with his tempo and ball handling. RJ can’t yet do that. He’s closest thing we have to a possibility though, and we should do our best to exhaust all options in trying to help him maximize his potential. I don’t see a foundation in place quite yet. I see an idea of one but nothing tangible. I only see fungible players. Now, one of the more compelling aspects of that Yankees dynasty is how unlikely a lot of the greatness of those players were. Steinbrenner didn’t think that Rivera would become the greatest singular specialty pitcher of all-time, nor was he sold on Jeter until Jeter starting playing. Posada was barely a factor in things until 1998 hit: He was known as Jeter’s minor league buddy before Torre gave him a chance because of his bat. Pettitte was a country bumpkin from Texas (he’s kind of from Deer Park Texas). He, with his unorthodox pitching motion and shrewd pick off move, became one of the best big game pitchers in Yankees history. Stranger things have happened. But, basketball is a sport where the results are more immediate and visceral. It’s the hardest league to be a superstar player in, or even an All Star player. If I was a betting man, only RJ and Grimes have a shot now. And even they shouldn’t be untouchable. Advantage, Nets, no matter how mentally psyched out Ben Simmons still is from the war against jumpers he waged in Philadelphia.
Jay I take offense to your IQ/Patty Mills comp, because even on his best day, Patty Mills could never hit a running floater from Sleepy Hollow, the small affluent hamlet in Westchester that is the only town on the Eastern seaboard with more Nets fans than Knicks fans, and IQ can. But player comps and various prescriptive issues with our guys aside, you nailed it. The fun is seeing how this team shakes out. I’m not necessarily saying I would choose the Knicks roster over the Nets today. In fact, fuck it, I’d take the Nets today. But can I see a scenario in three years where we hit a parlay and several of these bets pay off, and our team is in a stable, promising state and the Nets never get out of the second round and are a smoking, miserable pile of wreckage? Sure, and I think that scenario is more likely than most alternatives. So aside from the fact that Nets fans are more or less hypothetical and the arena they play in has all the charm and personality of an episode of CSI, I think I will take the rare, charitable, optimistic viewpoint in that I still like our team and most importantly, its players better, I like where we’re at in terms of roster composition, and I’m excited to see where we go from here, preferably armed with a high lottery pick this August.
This is all subject to change, in fairness. I saw this kid from Purdue, and I rarely watch college basketball because the lack of dexterity depresses me, but this kid Jaden Ivey can get to the paint and can finish. He went to the line 18 times the other game against Rutgers and had a huge slam that made the Purdue crowd go dizzy. Looking forward to only watching his games when the tournament starts. If we can get this guy, then we’re definitely better off than the Nets.
See? With all due respect to Nic Claxton and Cam Thomas, that’s the kind of hope most Nets fans will have to reserve for salad bowl specials at Chop’t in midtown for the next three to five years. Now if you’ll excuse me, my Chinese just landed, and I’m going to ward off this hangover by chugging soup like it’s Gatorade.