Netting KD and Kyrie: Brooklyn gets rewarded for maxing out this past season

This is a prime example of one of those “great for the business” days. Wow. The great soap opera that has become NBA Free Agency took on a life of its own last night. Amidst all the movement from some of the best the league has to offer, the Brooklyn Nets arose from the doldrums of the NBA and won a busy Day One.

They did so by acquiring the second and third best players available on the market and good friends in Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Meanwhile the nightmare continues for the Nets counterpart–who play just 20 minutes away from Brooklyn’s home court in the Barclays Center–the poor New York Knicks. 

The Nets also added veteran center DeAndre Jordan, who played for the Knicks last year and has a close relationship with KD and Kyrie. There’s no doubt Jordan steered KD and Kyrie away from the Knicks after seeing how the organization is run first hand this year. These three are all close and that certainly mattered to KD, whose in a great market, with a good team, with people he can trust alongside him.

No one could have foreseen Brooklyn “netting” in these two big fish free agents just a few years ago. In 2016, the Nets won a grand total of 20 games, which translated to the worst record in the association. Their starting five late in that year were Jeremy Lin, Randy Foye, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Joe Harris, and finally Brook Lopez, who is the franchise’s all-time leader in field goals and points, and second in minutes. Yikes! 

To put this in context, Lopez will make 13 million dollars every year for the next four seasons with Milwaukee. As the new top dawg in the franchise, Durant will earn 41 million over the next four years. Lopez is a solid role player, but has no business leading any franchise in the likes of those categories.

So how did Brooklyn reel in these two prizes , given that they are the “little brother” franchise in New York? The Knicks have become the Cleveland Browns of the NBA lately, they haven’t won a title since 1973. But the lore of the Knicks and Madison Square Garden was the sole reason there were rumblings that the Knicks might grab a big name free agent or two. It’s still the mecca of basketball after all.

Brooklyn outbid them for Kyrie and KD by simply doing things the right way. With a young core made up of unassuming no-name guys and a nice young coach in Kenny Atkinson, the Nets were able to shock everyone and make the playoffs as the sixth seed in the east. They squeezed every bit of talent they had and turned it into a fantastic NBA accomplishment. 

It’s true that the Nets didn’t make monumental playoff noise, falling to a far better Philadelphia 76ers team in six games. But we know that their appearance made an impression on KD and Kyrie. After both signed with the Nets, reports came out that the notion of these two teaming up was in the works for almost a year. I would strongly argue that a year ago today both these players were set on the Knicks. But the stability and savviness of the Nets that the Knicks have lacked — thanks in part to clown-ass owner James Dolan — for a few decades now came to the forefront during this year. And those two stars took notice big time. 

Despite the magnitude of this KD and Kyrie move, it really doesn’t matter too much in the 2020 season. With KD sidelined with a ruptured Achilles tendon this entire season, it’s Kyrie’s team. For now this Brooklyn team in 2020 only differs from the 2019 team in that they swap out D’Angelo Russell, now shockingly a Golden State Warrior, with Kyrie. 

They’ll be fun to watch and a nice story for the association. But without KD for the entire year, the Nets aren’t better than Philadelphia, Milwaukee, or Toronto (if Kawhi stays, that is). They’ll be fighting for a middle playoff seed with the likes of Boston, Indiana, and maybe Miami, depending on how they fill out the rest of their roster.

However, in 2020-2021 when KD returns from injury–even if he’s playing at 75% of his old self, Brooklyn will become a serious Eastern Conference contender. Meanwhile those damn Knicks ended up with Julius Randle, Taj Gibson, and Bobby Portis. Ooooof. 

They cleared the decks for two max slots by moving a young star on his rookie contract in Kristaps Porzingis to Dallas back in February. Porzingis is a promising young player with a tremendous skillset for a player 7’3 tall. The Knicks ran the risk of moving him with the belief KD and Kyrie would replace him as Porzingis was also on an expiring deal up until yesterday as Dallas signed him to a five year deal.

Instead they acquire Randle who is a nice player, coming off a season where he averaged 21 points and nine boards. But that signing is more of a slap in the face than an accomplishment, as it’s a miniscule consolation prize for the top targets that are heading right down the road in Brooklyn.

So what’s the big-picture moral of the story to this wild day for NBA basketball in New York City? Maybe it’s that tanking won’t necessarily solve your problems. The Knicks were hopeful of drafting Zion Williamson, the biggest NBA prospect since LeBron, then following that up with the acquisition of KD and Kyrie. 

Instead, the Knicks landed RJ Barrett with the third pick. Barrett’s an extremely talented player, but he’s a bit of a head case and a poor performer late in close games. And the Knicks are still stuck in the lottery with terrible ownership. 

Meanwhile the Brooklyn Nets earned Kyrie and KD by going out and showing their worth and turning heads in the NBA. Prior to now Brooklyn was a forgotten franchise. It’s a new day for them as one of many contenders down the road in this wild NBA landscape. Stay tuned, it was the craziest day in NBA history and the biggest fish in 2019 free agency in Kawhi Leonard is still mulling his decision with the Clippers, Lakers, and Raptors all in the mix.

-Simon Brady

 

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