The “bridge year” has come to an end. The Brooklyn Nets finished the season with a 20-62 record, good for worst in the NBA. General manager Sean Marks and first year head coach Kenny Atkinson knew they inherited a mess when they agreed to come on board, but for the first time in a while, there is a genuine feel of optimism throughout the entire organization.
The good, the bad and the ugly. Your 2016-17 Brooklyn Nets:
Jeremy Lin missed 46 games this year due to injury. The Nets were just 1-27 from December 26 to the All-Star break. They went win-less in the month of February. Those are some of the low points of the season. Once March rolled around, something clicked and the Nets became a completely different team. Instead of getting down on themselves, they stayed together and fought until the end every single night. Brooklyn went 11-13 from March 1 to the end of the season, holding one of the better records in the Eastern Conference during that time. They showed a ton of grit and were a much better team than their overall record indicated, and their strong finish could carry over into next season.
Brook Lopez expanded his shooting range to the 3-point line. He sank 134 shots from deep on his way to becoming the franchise’s all-time leading scorer, passing Buck Williams. He finished the season with 10,444 career points. After being dangled as trade bait the past few summer, Lopez may have finally showed his full value to the organization.
The jury is out on Lin’s performance, as he missed over half of the team’s games. However, Brooklyn was a much better team when he was on the floor. Veterans Trevor Booker and Randy also had nice years. Foye’s highlight came when he hit a buzzer beating 3-pointer in a win over the Charlotte Hornets. They are all high character guys who completely changed the culture of the Nets’ locker room. Greivis Vasquez and Luis Scola were waived during the season, but they also left their mark on the young players on the Nets.
The play of several youngsters this season also could help speed up Brooklyn’s rebuild. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson blossomed as a small-ball power forward and nearly averaged a double-double over the last month. Rookies Caris LeVert and Isaiah Whitehead both showed flashes as they navigated through their first NBA seasons. LeVert looks like the steal of the 2016 draft. After being brought along slowly to start the year, he came on strong and put the entire league on notice. He has all the makings of a starting NBA player and could develop into a star. Whitehead started a few games while Lin was injured and played well at times, but he seems more suited for a role off the bench. He looks like a keeper as well. All things considered, Marks hit a home run with his first draft class as Nets GM.
Brooklyn parted ways with Bojan Bogdanovic at the trade deadline and acquired an additional first round draft pick in the process. They also brought in young forward Andrew Nicholson and K.J. McDaniels.
The Nets signed journeymen Spencer Dinwiddie, Quincy Acy and Archie Goodwin to 10-day contracts this season, and all three played well enough to earn themselves multiyear deals. You can make an argument that no player improved as the season went on as much as Dinwiddie. Some fans were upset with the Nets for releasing Yogi Ferrell to sign him. Ferrell went on to become the starting point guard of the Dallas Mavericks, but Dinwiddie is a much better fit for Atkinson’s system.
This will be yet another crucial offseason for Marks and Atkinson. The Nets were bad, and as everyone knows, the Boston Celtics will benefit by having a guaranteed top four draft pick. Instead of picking in the lottery, the Nets will have the 22th, 27th and 57th picks in June’s draft. The 22nd pick is from the Washington Wizards, and both 27 and 57 are from the Celtics. The Atlanta Hawks receive Brooklyn’s second round pick this year, which is 31st overall. The Nets would’ve had another second rounder had the Indiana Pacers missed the playoffs, but that pick will come in a few years. They will also have over $3 million to buy a pick. This year’s draft class is extremely deep, so Marks has a decent chance of landing an impact player or two in the first round.
As for free agency, The Nets will be flush with cash for the second straight year. Their only unrestricted free agent is Randy Foye, but they will still have nearly $30 million in cap space. Eight players have guaranteed contracts for 2017-18, and the team has decisions to make on Goodwin, Dinwiddie, Acy, McDaniels, Joe Harris and Sean Kilpatrick. There is no way the Nets will exercise the options on all six players, as the Nets will have new rookies and free agency signings in a few months.
The Nets are hoping that their changed culture will help attract free agents to Brooklyn, but the moral of the story here is that everyone within the organization is finally in sync with one another. From ownership, to the front office, to the coaches, to the players. Everyone is on the same page, whether they considered this season as a bridge year or not.
That’s what #BrooklynGrit is all about.
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