By Fahim ‘Coach Fah’ Nassar
The beginning of the 2000s era for the State of New Jersey was seemingly a great one, at least for their basketball franchise. The Nets drafted Kenyon Martin first overall in the ‘now terrible’ 2000 NBA draft. Then a trade was made with Phoenix to bring Jason Kidd on board. When Jason Kidd came to the team, there was a new beat in the surrounding areas of North Jersey, especially East Rutherford where the Nets played. From Bergen County to Newark there was a newfound excitement about the Nets. New Jersians everywhere were sticking their Nets apparel-laden chests out proudly.
The Knicks were the bully of the east for the better part of the nineties, but now it seemed the ‘little brother’ team was finally surpassing its ‘Gotham City’ neighbor. The 2001-02 season saw the Nets finishing first place in the Eastern Conference. They won 52 wins and amassed only 30 losses. It was their best record since joining the NBA after the merger between the ABA and the NBA in 1976 as stated in Wikipedia. Though these new and miraculous Nets lost in the NBA Finals to the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers and their stars, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal.
The New Jersey glimmer continued the next season as the Nets again returned to the NBA finals with an impressive 49-33 record, led by coach Byron Scott. This time they were unfortunately swept as the Lakers repeated. Those there was dismay, there was still an upbeat attitude among the team and the surrounding cities, until Kenyon Martin was traded in 2004. Fansiders.com reported Kidd was among the angry when Martin left. He was appeased when Vince Carter joined the team. That did not last long, as the Nets found themselves bounced out in the second round year after year.
By 2008, the rest of the Eastern Conference, including the Boston Celtic and Miami Heat were getting tougher, while the Nets did not. Then, Kidd trade rumblings came to ahead and he was eventually traded back to Dallas for Devin Harris.
Things did not get better for the franchise after that. Then, in 2012, they were bought and moved to Brooklyn, New York. The new owner wanted to make a huge splash early and brought together an aging Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to run with Deron Williams. That was a pricey experiment that succeeded in helping Boston retool into what they have today.
Then, under coach Kenny Atkinson, a scrappy, undeterred team of young fighters like Caris Levert, Twitter-friendly Spencer Dinwiddie, and an unrelenting afroed Jarret Allen. And I must stop the process to speak on the evolution of D’Angelo Russell. This was a Lakers pariah due to an immature episode with ‘Swaggy P’. The Nets were wise enough to snatch this first round pick and allow him to grow under Kenny Atkinson’s tough love and tutelage. It worked. Russell became the go-to player and flourished in that role. Then the addition of Joe Harris made the team attractive for free agents, one in particular in Kyrie Irving, who grew up a New Jersey Nets fan, especially as they fought like hell in their one recent playoff appearance.
With some free agency whimsy and a serious injury to another superstar player, the Nets landed a wunderkind of talent. Though they lost Kenny Atkinson in the process, and D’Angelo Russell (both to their detriment in my humble opinion).
This brings me to the curious case.
For the first time in almost twenty years, the now Brooklyn Nets have a real opportunity to not only get to the NBA Finals, but be the first Nets team to win an NBA title and bring a title of any kind to the franchise since Doctor Jay.
That is, if they do not get in their own way.
While it is widely known information that Kyrie Irving has some ‘interesting’ life takes. It is also widely known (at least in Twitter world) that Kevin is at least ‘bothered’ by takes on his legacy. The precociousness of the two is also something of note. These all-world talents and personalities would be enough for even a seasoned head coach to discern and navigate. Yet, the Nets do not have that, per se.
The Nets have Steve Nash, Hall-of-Fame point guard, as their new head coach. It will be his job to gel this team, lead them and navigate them to the NBA Finals. Honestly, especially because these two stars are seemingly healthy going into the season, anything less would be a failure.
To assist him in this process, Steve and company have hired Amare Stoudemire and Mike D’Antoni, yes that Amare Stoudemire and Mike D’Antoni. To let Kyrie tell it, Jacques Vaughn, who is another assistant coach, will coach some days, Kyrie will coach some days, Kevin will coach some days…
It will be a daunting task to say the least.
If Steve can pull it off, and the fellas can stay healthy this season, and next I will prognosticate that if they don’t win an NBA Championship for the 2020-21 season they are most assuredly the frontrunner for 2021-22.
Like I said, if. All of this is assuming there are no injuries and Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving avoid nagging tugs at playing time. If Steve cannot or does not control his house of plenty; if there is in-fighting among coaches (inexperience, defiance, condescending tones etc…), and if the players can’t gel or think the leadership is inept, this will implode quite dramatically, ala Jason Kidd era. That is my candid opinion.