Submitted by Cory Bernstein of Hoops Talk Nation
It’s about damn time.
LeBron James’ now infamous first words after finally being able to hoist up the Larry O’Brien Trophy was said by every Nets fan last night. The Nets are no longer a joke, the brunt of an unfunny meme, a dormant in the Eastern Conference, a team promising a bright future despite no reason for fans to expect anything more than inadequacy. Deron Williams’ re-signing with the Nets last night gave this rebranded team something to show off and proudly strut into the Barclays Center next season as the team begins its newest chapter in Brooklyn.
By trading for Joe Johnson and re-signing Williams, the Nets are now establishing a winning culture they could never find in New Jersey. This is a new team, with new uniforms, a new stadium, but most importantly a new attitude. When the Nets were very competitive at the beginning of last decade, it seemed like an anomaly. Like the Pittsburgh Pirates of the MLB or Cleveland Browns of the NFL, the New Jersey Nets could not be a truly “good” team. Even if they had a solid roster, heartbreak was sure to ensue and the ultimate goal of winning a title could not be reached because “They’re the Nets!” The franchise had a stigma and tradition of losing that could not be eradicated. All of this is now a distant memory. The Brooklyn Nets are trying, and so far succeeding, at creating a winning culture, where only good, hard-working players don Nets’ jerseys.
The last few years of being a Net fan has been marred by this idea of the Nets being perpetual losers. Since July of 2010, it has
seemed as if the Nets have tried to trade for or sign every player in the NBA to no avail. LeBron. Bosh. Joe Johnson. Boozer. Amare. Carmelo. Nene. Tyson. Caron. Each of these players received massive contract offers by the Nets, but spurned for greener pastures. Billy King has been taking risks since the moment he got the Nets’ GM job. For the past two years, he has put all of his eggs into rebuilding this team through free agency. The “traditional” method of rebuilding through the draft used by teams such as the Thunder was thrown to the wayside. The Nets would go big or go home, and for the past two years they have returned to their reluctantly returned to their houses.
This is probably as testament to how big of a loser I am, but I will never forget where I was when the Nets traded for Deron Williams. In Florida at my grandparents’ house, I was sitting on the couch watching Chris Broussard analyze and report all the happenings of the Trade Deadline. Then, out of nowhere, Broussard looked down at his phone on air and his voice raised a few decibels, saying the Nets were about to acquire Deron Williams, that this move came out of nowhere, and Devin Harris, Derrick Favors, and two future first round picks (one of which became Enes Kanter) were to be dealt. Immediately, I was in shock and joy. The Nets finally acquired an All-Star point guard to go to war with. However, it was clear that this trade was a tremendous risk by Billy King. He finally had his superstar he lusted so badly for in the Summer of 2010, but at what cost? Two high first round picks and a former All-Star point guard were three major assets for a player who could take his talents elsewhere in a year and a half. If Williams was to leave, the Nets would be devastated, and the move to Brooklyn would come with the Nets no only without a superstar, but lacking a semblance of a basketball team.
This past season, Billy King continued to take risks at the Trade Deadline. King made the much-maligned move to acquire Gerald Wallace. Still, it makes little sense. Trading a pick surely to land in the top 10 for a past his prime small forward? In addition, with the “Dwightmare” over, with the Nets failing to land Superman, the roster was in flux heading into this summer. A loss at the Draft Lottery doomed failure, but Billy King, Mikhail Prokhorov, and all of the Nets’ management have played the last two weeks brilliantly.
Unlike the failures of New Jersey during free agency, the Brooklyn Nets have succeeding in building a competitive, fun basketball team for the next half-decade. Despite all the jokes made about the Gerald Wallace trade, it ended up working out well for the Nets. He signed a reasonable contract with the Nets (a back loaded deal for 4 years worth 40 million dollars) and will provide value as a defender for the duration of the deal. Billy King then did what Billy King does on Monday: take risks. King sent the entire Nets’ roster that was under contract besides MarShon Brooks to the Atlanta Hawks for Joe Johnson. Despite his horrible contract, Joe is a SIX-TIME All-Star. He has a great midrange game and is a very solid defender, something the Nets so sorely needed the past few years. And, for the first time since he left Phoenix in 2005, Johnson does not need to be the primary scoring option for his team. This will allow his usage rate to decrease and his bad shots to become less frequent, making him a much more effective and efficient player.
But, most importantly, the Nets re-signed their point guard and franchise savior, Deron Williams. The Nets’ goal for the last eighteen months has been centered around Deron tweeting that image of the Brooklyn Nets’ logo, recognizing the power of a new franchise in Brooklyn and wanting to lead the Nets to the other side of the Hudson River. With Bosnian sharp-shooting power forward Mizra Teletovic and bruiser Reggie Evans also agreeing to deals with the Nets as well, Williams will lead a formidable bunch into the Barclays Center next year. Will they be contending for a title next season? No, probably not. But, the Nets will a competitive, fun team to watch. With Williams leading the squad and dishing to Joe Johnson on the wing or feeding the ball down low to Teletovic and Brook Lopez, the Nets will be scoring the ball at an impressive rate. Wallace and Joe Johnson will suffocate opposing wings on defense, and Reggie Evans’ physical style of play will lead to some fouls, but also great rebounds and hustle plays off the bench, something the Nets have not had in years. The Nets have been waiting to move to Brooklyn, and they can now go to their new home knowing they have a team that can play with anybody.
It’s about damn time.