The Philadelphia 76ers have now become synonymous with the phrase “Trust the Process.” An extensive, interesting rebuild finally paid dividends in 2017-18 as the 76ers won 52 games and reached the Eastern Conference semis. This just two years after a season in which they won 10 games.
Philadelphia took an unorthodox route in their rebuild, but have the last laugh as they project to be one of the rising teams in NBA, led by star big man Joel Embiid. The Brooklyn Nets have also faced an unorthodox rebuilding process. Are the Nets primed to make a 76ers type leap in the next few seasons?
In 2014, the Brooklyn Nets and Boston Celtics executed one of the most infamous trades in NBA history. The Celtics sent two future Hall of Famers in Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Nets in exchange for five players and three (!) first round picks. 2014 proved to be a success in the first year post trade for the Nets as they reached the Eastern Conference semifinals. However, due to the age of Garnett and Pierce, the Nets had a very short window of opportunity that they missed due to being in the LeBron led Eastern Conference.
Brooklyn reached the playoffs the next season but bowed out in the first round. The window had officially closed, and the Nets embarked on a full rebuild. Since that last postseason trip, Brooklyn has posted seasons of 21, 20, and 28 wins.
Despite this, there is a tremor of excitement surrounding this Nets squad heading into the 2018 season. Why is that?
First and foremost, Kenny Atkinson is the right man for this rebuild, a perfect leader for the young guys in Brooklyn. Atkinson’s specialty thus far has been player development, evidenced by the development of Jarrett Allen and Spencer Dinwiddie.
Allen was drafted as the 22nd pick of the first round, but was seen as a big project that would spend time in the G-League. Despite this, Atkinson believed in his guy and the big man rewarded him by leading all rookies in blocks.
Dinwiddie was thrusted into a major role following the injuries to Jeremy Lin and D’angelo Russell. The Colorado product performed well as a do-it-all type of point guard, finishing third in Most Improved Player voting. Now that the Nets are finally out from under the Celtics deal that forced them to miss out on players in the last few drafts, Atkinson and GM Sean Marks will finally be able to draft a top level prospect in next year’s lottery.
The young guys
The Nets have some exciting young pieces already in place, two of which have already been mentioned in Dinwiddie and Allen. In addition, the Nets have Russell leading the way at point guard. Russell has been a polarizing subject among the NBA community, but I’m inclined to believe in Russell.
Following a major knee injury in 2017, 2018 could be a make or break season for Russell in regards to his future in Brooklyn. One thing we do know about Russell is that he can score the ball, but he has steadily improved his ball distribution in each of his three NBA seasons. If Dloading can take another leap in that respect, the Nets may lock him in with a long term deal as they have the money to pay him next summer.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has also sparked some intrigue among Nets fans, showing flashes of potential and improving in nearly every major category each year in the league. Hollis-Jefferson fits well in Atkinson’s small ball offense. If Caris Levert continues his development as well, the Nets are set up well for the future in the frontcourt.
The Nets have not owned the rights to their first round pick since 2013. Heading into 2019, they have not one, but two first rounders. While the Nets are improving, this season will be another block in the rebuild. Because of this, at least one of the Nets’ 2019 first round picks projects to be a high lottery pick.
Not only do the Nets have two first round picks, they also have massive amounts of cap space. Enough to add two max contracts in the 2019 free agent class, one that could be headlined by Klay Thompson, Kyrie Irving, and Jimmy Butler. Shooters should be atop priority of the Nets in both aspects, something they desperately need.
The 76ers finally had the turn around they had been anticipating last season. Will the Nets be able to replicate the success of their Atlantic Division foes in a few years? With young talent and veteran leadership from guys like Jared Dudley and Demarre Carroll, the Nets could take another leap in 2018. If the Nets play their assets right, there’s no reason to believe the Nets couldn’t be players in the post LeBron James Eastern Conference in a few short years.