While the Brooklyn Nets aren’t the most disappointing team in the NBA, they are on a shortlist of contenders. Dubbed the preseason favorite to win the title, just about anything that could go wrong has it for the Nets. If continuity were commonplace, Brooklyn would be penniless.
The Nets used an NBA-high 33 starting lineups en route to their All-Star break 31-28 record. Underperformers in their own right, the Los Angeles Lakers are next with 28. Eighteen players have made at least one start for the Nets.
It’s almost gotten to the point where the team might consider replacing jersey ads with “Hello. My name is…” stickers. So what can coach Steve Nash’s team do to turn things around in the last 23 games?
1. The Brooklyn Nets need Kevin Durant ASAP
Kevin Durant sprained his left MCL on January 15. The Brooklyn Nets went into a tailspin immediately after that.
Brooklyn is 4-13 since Durant’s injury and has lost 11 straight games in that span. No NBA champion has ever lost more than six in a row, so that’s not an encouraging sign.
With James Harden traded to the Philadelphia 76ers, Kyrie Irving eligible for just eight games the rest of the regular season and Ben Simmons getting back into shape, the Nets’ offense is a shambles.
Joe Harris has been out since mid-November, further complicating the spacing. The addition of Seth Curry in the Harden trade helps mitigate this.
But Durant is the key to righting Brooklyn’s rating ship. The Nets are 24-12 when Durant is playing and 7-16 when he’s not playing. Their .667 pace with the 2013-14 MVP in the roster would be the best in the Eastern Conference.
It’s no shock that having one of the most devastating scorers in NBA history on the court makes your team better. Durant led the NBA in scoring when injured while also getting 5.8 assists per game. No one else on the list can replicate this production.
There is no specific timeline for the 12-time All-Star’s return. But that can’t come fast enough for the struggling Nets.
2. Another guard is crucial
Kyrie Irving has played 14 games. Kessler Edwards, an undrafted rookie on a two-way deal, started 20. Yeah, it’s been so weird for the Brooklyn Nets.
The San Antonio Spurs have waived veteran point guard Goran Dragić, and Brooklyn is one of many suitors surrounding the 35-year-old.
According to Marc Stein on Substack, the former All-Star plans to take some time to survey the scene. The Nets are far from alone in their pursuit of Dragić. The Milwaukee Bucks, Chicago Bulls, Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers are also on his trail.
Brooklyn could have a wildcard in the talks. Dragić served as Nash’s back-up for the Phoenix Suns in his first three NBA seasons and considers the Nets coach a mentor figure.
With Irving’s sporadic availability, continuity on the offensive end has been nearly impossible to maintain. A veteran point guard like The Dragon could stabilize this situation.
Brooklyn has no spot on the open roster. However, they currently have five centers – Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge, Andre Drummond, Nic Claxton and rookie Day’Ron Sharpe.
With all due respect to Griffin, a six-time All-Star and a five-time All-NBA, he’s been horrible this year. He’s shooting 56.7 percent from two points and a putrid 24.0 percent from deep. At 32, his top-flight days are few and he’s never been a rim protector. He’s also on a veteran’s minimum contract, so even for the luxury tax-strapped Nets, he’s an inexpensive player to release.
3. The Brooklyn Nets need to find a sense of urgency
Veteran Patty Mills told The New York Post’s Peter Botte during All-Star Weekend in Cleveland that there was no more time to waste. The Brooklyn Nets have their backs against the proverbial wall.
“It’s time to go,” Mills said. “I think being able to add the things we’ve added, getting people back from injury, that’s what we have. I can’t stop talking about the vibe around the locker room and everyone enjoying each other’s presence. … You can feel it in the locker room, and it’s going to take us far, I believe, if we can hold it together as a group.
“It’s going to take all of us to get the job done. It’s a huge push for us to come.
Brooklyn is eighth in the East, seven games behind the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls. But they trail the sixth-place Boston Celtics by 2.5 games for the last guaranteed playoff spot. Catching up with Boston is a realistic goal, even if the top of the conference seems out of reach.
Homecourt’s playoff advantage might not be so advantageous without a change in the city’s vaccination mandate. Irving can only play on the road, which means three games in a best-of-seven series. If the seeding remains unchanged, Brooklyn will visit the Toronto Raptors in Game 1 of the qualifying tournament.
It would be a trip without Irving. But there is a reason for hope.
Durant almost carried the Nets to the Eastern Conference Finals last year. He is one of the few NBA players capable of putting a team on his shoulders. It wasn’t supposed to be like this, not with the infamous Big Three in town, but it is the reality for the Brooklyn Nets.
The last seven weeks of the regular season represent a substantial ascent.
Statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.
RELATED: Kyrie Irving Could Be The Next Star To Follow James Harden Out Of Brooklyn