The Brooklyn Nets have been pegged as title contenders since Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving signed with the team in the 2019 offseason, but this chapter of their franchise has come to an abrupt end after both future Hall of Famers were unloaded by the team earlier this week.
This marks the end of this chapter for a Brooklyn team that was constantly shrouded with telenovela-esque drama which ultimately distracted them from their on-court performance.
Currently fifth in the Eastern Conference standings with a 33-22 record, the Nets were far from underperforming this season, yet Irving demanded a trade when discussions surrounding his contract extension did not go his way. Brooklyn immediately packaged him with Markieff Morris and shipped the controversial guard to the Dallas Mavericks for Spencer Dinwiddie, Dorian Finney-Smith, an unprotected 2029 first rounder, and two second round picks.
In the aftermath of Irving’s departure and barely a year since the team dealt away 2018 NBA Most Valuable Player James Harden, Durant was suddenly the lone star on the Nets and this did not sit well with him according to reports. He doubted the team’s ability to contend for the NBA championship this year and renewed his trade request from the offseason which, this time around, was granted by their front office.
Durant and TJ Warren were sent to the Phoenix Suns for an enticing package that was headlined by 2022 NBA All Defensive team member Mikal Bridges and sharpshooting forward Cam Johnson. The deal, which was a four-team transaction that included the Milwaukee Bucks and Indiana Pacers as well, was further sweetened for Brooklyn as they received four first round picks, a 2020 pick swap, and two second round picks.
While much of the attention in the aftermath of these trades has focused on the destinations of Irving and Durant and their respective title aspirations, the Nets team that they have left behind is still in quite decent shape.
Sophomore guard Cam Thomas has been the primary beneficiary of these departures in the immediate aftermath as he has averaged 32.3 points per game in Brooklyn’s last six contests. Thomas’ scoring acumen was the main reason behind the Nets picking him 27th overall in the 2021 NBA Draft and he now has a prime opportunity to make a name for himself as one of the top options with this group.
Meanwhile, everyone will be watching Bridges intently now that he is in an environment where he is cast as a primary offensive option. The 6’6 Bridges is arguably the player whom opposing teams value the most on this Brooklyn roster and it will be interesting to see if he can further improve on what has already been a breakout season for him.
The 26-year-old is averaging 17.2 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 3.6 assists through 56 games this season and these numbers should only go up now that he is with the Nets.
The returning Dinwiddie, who spent five years with Brooklyn until he was sent to the Washington Wizards in a sign-and-trade last 2021, is also going to be a crucial piece on this team in the second half of this campaign. The veteran may attract interest in the offseason from contending teams who are in need of a third rotational guard, but in the meantime, he is expected to be the straw that stirs the drink for this team full of proven role players.
The floor-spacing that his backcourt partners Seth Curry, Patty Mills, and Joe Harris can provide will only make things easier for Dinwiddie who is still only 29 years old.
The last two players that Brooklyn received, the 6’7 Finney-Smith and 6’8 Johnson, have a similar 3-and-D archetype and are the type of players that can have an immense impact on winning. They join Yuta Watanabe and Royce O’Neale in a Nets frontcourt that is stacked with elite team-oriented forwards.
The continued development of Nic Claxton and the successful rehabilitation of Ben Simmons’ confidence provides even more upside potential for these Nets.
Although it is difficult to imagine this collection of players making it all the way to the NBA Finals, a surprise second round appearance as this year’s feel-good story is not entirely out of the question. This team should pull off a couple surprises over these next few months and this bodes well for Brooklyn’s front office as it is likely boost their players’ value for an eventual trade in the upcoming offseason.
While the Nets may no longer be bannered by two perennial NBA All-Stars, they just might be better off in this situation. They are stacked with various tradable assets and are teeming with experienced players who know how to win basketball games. It is only a matter of time before they find a way to wedge themselves into the trade market for the next disgruntled superstars, but until then, their fanbase can once again enjoy a no-frills team that just wants to play the right way.