Another week, another set of Brooklyn Nets signings.
LaMarcus Aldridge and Paul Millsap became the latest former All-Stars to join a Nets squad that continues to become more dangerous… at least on paper.
Of particular note was the return of Aldridge, who abruptly retired five months ago after concerns stemming from the Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome he was diagnosed with as a rookie back in 2007. After being cleared by multiple doctors, he is returning to Brooklyn on a one-year deal worth $2.6 million.
Meanwhile, Millsap joins the team after a four-year stint with the Denver Nuggets. The four-time NBA All-Star saw his role get reduced with each passing season, and while he will likely take on a reduced role with the Nets as well, he will have an even better chance at an NBA title.
Both developments came just within the same week Brooklyn sent DeAndre Jordan, a handful of second-round picks, and $5.78 million to the Detroit Pistons for Sekou Doumbouya and Jahlil Okafor. Jordan reportedly agreed to a contract buyout with the Pistons and will sign with the Los Angeles Lakers once he clears waivers.
Reloading seems to be the Nets’ mantra this offseason as they continue to stack the deck with all stars and effective role players willing to sign for below their market values (i.e., Patty Mills). This has allowed Brooklyn to boast the depth and talent that only a few teams can match and would have made for an unbeatable lineup back in 2014. Yes, a bunch of their guys are now old and past their primes, but there’s a reason they made All-Star teams.
The practice of contenders bringing in former All-Stars is of course a practice from time immemorial but it has garnered much more attention over the last two decades, with the likes of the 2004 Lakers, 2013 Miami Heat, and the 2016 Golden State Warriors coming to mind. Of course, it doesn’t guarantee championship success (see the 2004 Lakers, 2014 Heat, and the 2016 Warriors), but it certainly seems to get you to the NBA Finals.
This current iteration of the Nets does have aging All-Stars, and a couple of these players come with medical concerns of their own. If last season was any indication, then this adds a wrinkle to the problems they must answer for in the 2021-2022 season.
Health, rather than the who’s who in the roster, was arguably the biggest hindrance to Brooklyn’s championship aspirations, as Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving all missed significant time in both the regular season and, especially in the case of Harden and Irving, the postseason. Durant did a masterful job in trying to carry the Nets on his shoulders and nearly willed them to the Eastern Conference Finals. Unfortunately, he was a few inches short of doing so.
Having the three on the court at the same time more than on the injury list would certainly be top priority, as it would also help them develop oncourt chemistry with their new teammates. Games aren’t won with a Chop Suey cast of great players. There remain elements of health, strategy, understanding the tendencies of one another and that of their opponents, and last but not the least, a little bit of luck that can spell the difference between a disappointing exit and championship glory.
Other teams such as the Lakers, Warriors, Heat, and even the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks have also been joining the arms race in some way, shape, or form and it won’t be surprising to see both the Lakers and the Nets in the finals, with their “role” players playing pivotal roles.
Naturally, this roster-building philosophy Brooklyn has pursued contains major long-term implications. Beyond the likes of Durant, Harden, and Irving, there is no young cornerstone to build on once the three are gone. The likes of Doumbouya, Nic Claxton, and Jevon Carter can contribute when given minutes, but none have the star potential to take over when needed. Cam Thomas has impressed in summer league action, but it remains to be seen how he will fare against tougher competition and the gruelling effects of an 82-game schedule.
Of course, the long-term future isn’t (unfortunately) much of a concern now as the Nets currently have a win-now mentality and compared to the Lakers, their title window is longer as it currently stands.
Given their status as title favorites, the Brooklyn Nets will remain a prime destination for free agents, especially those willing to take a paycut. Numbers have their own merits financially and production-wise, but at the end of the day, winning (and clinching a championship) will always take precedence, especially for the older players. After all, everything else will follow suit.