That was the mantra two offseasons ago, when the Brooklyn Nets traded their future for the immediate present. We all know how Brooklyn came up short of their goals. With the championship window slammed shut, management finally decided to move in a different direction with a new blueprint for building a team.
With a heavy influx of players under 30, the Nets now appear to be going “all in” with something else — youth and athleticism. Obviously there will be growing pains and inconsistencies, but with any change there’s excitement and eagerness by many to see how this young talent develops on the court.
I’m looking forward to the new beginning, but it would be foolish to think that there isn’t serious risk that comes along with this new approach.
Consider the following:
Losing That Could Build A Contender
Suppose the Nets are horrendous over the next few years, as many pundits predict. If that’s the case, they’ll gift-wrap three lottery picks to the Boston Celtics over the next three drafts.
Losing out on superior talent is one thing, but potentially arming the Celtics with a core of good, young talent is another. What if Danny Ainge utilizes those future blue-chip assets to acquire a superstar? To make matters even worse, they would improve a team that is also in the Atlantic Division — a direct competitor who the Nets would play multiple times per season. How will the Nets fare against Boston in the years to come if they help make them into an Eastern Conference superpower?
A Tarnished Brooklyn Brand
If the Nets experience a ton of losing, it may create a bad culture and potentially stunt player development. This seems to be the case with teams (in all sports) that are perpetually bad. Doesn’t it always appear that the same teams are on the outside looking in during playoff time? Long-time fans of the Nets know exactly how breaking a dependence on the draft lottery is no easy task.
The Nets will have a ton of cap space in 2016, but from what we have witnessed over the past few offseasons, top free agents seem less inclined to join these struggling organizations, even if the market is attractive and the money is there.
Instead, they seem willing to take less to join forces on established teams. Just look at how the Knicks and Lakers haven’t been able to sell these players on the bright lights of New York and Los Angeles. Brooklyn may be a big market, but where the Nets are in the standings will be more important than where they are geographically.
The Impact on The Younger Players
It’s possible that the Nets will deal Joe Johnson later this season to a contending team. How would that impact younger players like Markel Brown and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson? The fans may want to see the kids play but it is important not to diminish the impact an older veteran can serve as a mentor.
As tempting as it is to rely heavily on younger players during a rebuilding phase, it isn’t wise to throw them to the wolves. You run the risk of stunting a player’s development when they’re put in a bad position. Think about how many players’ careers have been ruined due to a bad situation.
Think back to Billy King pointing out the importance of exposing young talent to postseason competition. He specifically noted the benefit of Mason Plumlee’s playoff minutes against Toronto as a rookie, and what Markel Brown would get to experience heading into the Atlanta series. These opportunities help mold players into winners as opposed to learning bad habits while playing for a cellar-dweller.
Will Barclays Become Another IZOD or Prudential Center?
It’s no secret that the Nets struggled to grow their fan base in New Jersey. Many factors contributed to this, but chronic losing near the end was the biggest culprit. If a game was sold out, it was usually to see the other team who was in town.
If the Nets experience several years of futility, without a lottery pick to show for it, how will the new and casual Brooklyn fans respond? Will they be willing to suffer through the lean years, or will they become indifferent?
With arguably the best arena in the league, nothing would be more disappointing than to see a half empty venue on a nightly basis thus creating a safe haven for the visiting team.
It’s far from the Larry O’Brien Trophy, but a “championship” for the Nets would be to tread water over the next few seasons by qualifying for the postseason, even if resulted in a-first round sweep. Simply preventing Boston from stockpiling lottery picks while maintaining relevancy would be a success.
It may not be the loftiest goal, but considering the situation they are in until 2019, this may be the only way for the Nets to make due with the mess they helped create for themselves.