Monday afternoon, ESPN released its Summer Forecast of the NBA’s Eastern Conference ranking the Brooklyn Nets as the eighth seed. The forecast record was not any better at 39-43.
Each year, ESPN’s Forecast sets off a series of contentious debates among local fan bases, and sure enough, Brooklyn Nets fans are irritated by the ranking:
@ESPNNBA HAHAHAHAH A HAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAH HAHAHAHAH GOOD ONE GUYS
— Marquis Woods (@Keysta101) August 11, 2014
. @ESPNNBA LOL. OKAY.
— Mike King (@MikeKing00) August 11, 2014
— Brian Mathew (@brianjm24) August 11, 2014
— Ed Boulanger (@Ed_Boulanger) August 11, 2014
@ESPNNBA hasn't anyone ever told you: DON'T SLEEP ON BROOKLYN!!!!!
— Princess Carter (@PrinZessCarter) August 11, 2014
@ESPNNBA a healthy bknets will definitely do Damage in the east
— Alfred Epps (@mralfredepps) August 11, 2014
After all, last year the Nets were one of the last four teams standing in the East.
Following their early struggles, no team in the East had a better regular season record than Brooklyn after January 1st. Even when the Nets were ousted from the playoffs by the Heat, all but one loss came down to the last few minutes. One could argue with a little bit of continuity (the Nets are returning 10 players this year) there’s reason to be bullish.
But we can’t ignore the offseason. Jason Kidd, less Brooklyn’s head coach and more the face of the franchise, left in an ugly power struggle. Paul Pierce, the man who saved the season in Toronto, signed with the Washington Wizards after the Nets put a line in the sand on spending. Even the season’s feel-good story, the resurgent Shaun Livingston, wisely grabbed more money from the Golden State Warriors than the capped-out Nets could offer.
Now, the Nets are betting on an original core that once seemed promising but now finds itself hobbled by injury. Deron Williams, the franchise point guard who failed to live up to expectations, returns this season after two ankle surgeries. Brook Lopez, Brooklyn’s promising 25-year-old center, returns from a third foot surgery in three years, a historical harbinger of bad news for big men. Joe Johnson, last season’s rock, enters the season at 33 years old with nearly 36,000 minutes played over his career.
The optimists bet on a resurgent Williams and rejuvenated Lopez, and that father time will smile kindly on Johnson, Kevin Garnett and Andrei Kirilenko. They place faith that Mason Plumlee and Mirza Teletovic continue developing, and that Bojan Bogdanovic lives up to the hype. They assume a more prepared Lionel Hollins comes firing out of the gate with a new roster, in a way that neither Avery Johnson or Jason Kidd could.
Betting on Lopez or Williams returning to form is risky. Doubling down on Plumlee’s next step or Hollins’s leadership might be a good bet. We don’t know.
So here’s what the Forecast says to me: A group of NBA writers and enthusiasts have no idea what to think about this Nets’ squad either. An eighth seed reads like a collective shrug: “I don’t want to be the guy who bets against them in the playoffs.” To be honest, that sort of seems right.
They love Lopez’s game, but they don’t trust his foot. They’ve seen Williams at his best, but believe it’s wise to hedge on his skills. They recognize The Nets were only the sixth seed last year, but even with losses of key personnel, they don’t discount a second-half surge that earned this team a dark-horse contender status.
You can quibble with the rankings if you’d like. There are the pieces to a very good basketball team on this roster. But when you look at health, development, and a fourth coach in three years, you can’t rank this team with any certainty.
Either way, it beats the hell out of those last few years in Jersey, where we knew exactly where the team would rank. (Doesn’t hurt to be ranked above the Knicks, either.)
What do you think? Too low? Too high? Or do you have no earthly clue either?