Coming off of a 28-win campaign last season, the Brooklyn Nets had low expectations. The steady development of young players in Caris LeVert, D'Angelo Russell and Jarrett Allen seemed more important than wins.
The season seemed to head that way on Dec. 5. After a game-winning three pointer by Oklahoma City's Paul George knocked off Brooklyn, the Nets fell to 8-18. Mired in an eight-game losing streak, Brooklyn found themselves with the fourth worst record in the East - behind the New York Knicks.
But Brooklyn instantly turned their season around, winning nine of their next 10 games. From that point, the Nets were one of the better teams in the East, ending up with a 34-22 record in their final 56 games. Even with LeVert and Spencer Dinwiddie out for lengthy periods with injury, the Nets finished sixth in the East with a 42-40 record.
A big factor in Brooklyn's success was Russell. The former Laker made his first All-Star team and led the Nets in scoring (21.1 points) and assists (7.0). Allen also made gains as a rim protecting force. The starting center finished top 10 in block percentage and presented himself as a legitimate lob threat in the pick-and-roll.
First Round Blues
The Nets faced the Philadelphia 76ers and their cadre of stars in the first round of the postseason. Brooklyn took the series opener behind a 59-26 bench scoring advantage. Outside of the trash talk between both teams, there wasn't much to discuss as Philly outscored Brooklyn 64 points in the next four contests and won the series 4-1.
The Nets struggled to control the paint in the series. They had the lowest defensive rebounding percentage (64.3 percent) of any team in the playoffs, as Philadelphia out-rebounded the Nets 264-203. According to Basketball Reference, the Sixers were second among playoff teams in percentage of shots attempted from zero to three feet as well.
To put it nicely, Brooklyn's starting lineup was a dumpster fire. The starting five of Russell, Joe Harris, Rodions Kurucs, DeMarre Carroll and Allen was outscored by 58.9 points per 100 possessions in 25 minutes. Even after making the change in Game Four to replace Kurucs and Carroll with LeVert and Jared Dudley, the starters were ineffective in two games.
Russell will receive a mulligan for his first postseason appearance, though. The length of Philadelphia's Ben Simmons was a major problem for Russell. The Nets lead ball handler scored 97 points on 103 shot attempts, while shooting just 36.3 percent overall. The Nets were also outscored by 28.6 points per 100 possessions when Russell was on the floor.
Also, the Sixers made a concentrated effort to take Harris out of the series. Brooklyn's sharp shooter shot just 4-of-21 from three (19 percent) in five games after leading the NBA in three-point shooting during the regular season (47.2 percent).
Offseason of Promise
The Nets enter the offseason with flexibility and an improved image. Despite the sour ending to their playoff run, they have become one of the more intriguing free agent destinations. Armed with a young roster filled with prospects and a respected team culture, the Nets will vie for some of the top available players in the NBA including Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris. Depending on what they do with all of the cap holds of their pending free agents, the Nets could have as much as $46 million in cap space.
- D'Angelo Russell (Restricted)
- Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (Restricted)
- DeMarre Carroll
- Jared Dudley
- Ed Davis
- Theo Pinson (Restricted Two-Way)
- Alan Williams (Restricted Two-Way)
Realistically, the Nets will have closer to $33 million in cap space if they renounce the rights to all of their free agents except Russell, who is likely to sign an extension.
Teams like the Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks and Los Angeles Clippers are expected to be major players in free agency. The Nets could strike out, and would likely sign their own free agents or other players around the league to one-year deals to keep their cap space free for the summer of 2020.
Caris LeVert Extension
Next season, LeVert will be eligible for a contract extension. After recovering from his gruesome foot injury, LeVert stepped up in the postseason and shined throughout, averaging a team-high 21.9 points. He also reminded everyone how he appeared to be Brooklyn's best player before his injury.
LeVert's impressive play could cause the Nets to consider an extension, to secure his future playing with Russell in Brooklyn's starting backcourt of the future.
Draft Picks Galore
After years of waiting and escaping the Billy King era, the Nets have their own first round draft pick. They will be picking 17th and also own the 27th pick after making a trade with the Denver Nuggets last summer. Brooklyn also owns one second round pick, the 31st overall selection.