The depressing life of a Nets fan: previewing Brooklyn’s 2015-16 season.
Being a Nets fan can be rough. It sometimes feels like you get all the loathing that teams like the Yankees and Patriots receive, but without any the of the overwhelming, long-standing success. Yes, every NBA fan loves to hate Brooklyn. It makes them feel better about the state of their own team. After all, the Nets couldn’t be more poorly run. Billy King had a chance to build a future – a contender – upon their move to Brooklyn, but opted instead to trade away valuable future assets for ageing once-superstars, who would only go on to leave the team at the earliest opportunity. Now the Nets are poised to miss the playoffs for the first time since 2012, with their possibly very draft high pick only going to the Celtics. And there’s no real hope in sight – the Nets won’t actually own their first-round draft pick until 2019. Unfortunately, it’s not exactly an anomaly for this organisation. With just two conference finals victories (and subsequent finals appearances) in the history of the team, there has never been much to cheer about.
I find myself in an even stranger situation. I have only ever lived in New Zealand, so I had no geographical obligation to root for this team. I literally had the pick of the bunch. Why didn’t I do what other Michael Jordan fans did and choose the Bulls? Why didn’t I decide to care about long-standing dynasties, like the Lakers, or the Spurs? No, I opted to stick to the theme of supporting New York sports, after visiting the New York/Jersey area several times over the years, and picked the less obvious choice of the Nets. Little did I know then the pain it would cause.
But what can I do now? Whether I like it or not, I am too deep in this fandom to turn back. Even with just about every journalist calling them “the most boring team in sports”, I continue to watch and root for this shambles of a team. I know that for every day of this season, I will refresh my phone over and over throughout the work day, desperately hoping to see a “W” appear. I know that I will go home at night and watch the games on delay, desperately trying to pick out reasons for enthusiasm. And I know that, more often than not, I will be disappointed.
So is there anything to be happy about? Any hope at all? Well, looking at last season, we can at least see that the Thaddeus Young trade did something to reignite the Nets’ play, and perhaps improve chemistry.
These stats show how the Thad Young trade generally improved the team, after which they went 17-13 for the remaining 30 games of the season. With Young signing on for another 4 years, one can only hope that the combination of him and Lopez will build on this success. However, these numbers are nothing to be excited about. The Nets, as usual, come out mediocre. But at this point, it may be that mediocre is just what they need. After all, without the possibility of a championship, the only aim of this season is to give the Celtics a less desirable pick. And without the dark cloud of Deron Williams hanging over everybody’s heads, and perhaps a few strokes of luck, the chemistry boost could just push them over that line.
Unfortunately though, last week statistical connoisseur Nate Silver unleashed his basketball-forecasting algorithm CARMELO, and put forth predictions for each team in the process. For those unfamiliar, Nate Silver and his team are extremely adept at the art of prediction. They used advanced mathematical modelling to correctly predict the winner of every state in the 2012 election (beating out every other political pundit). Last year, they were the only sports journalists to correctly pick the GSW as the NBA champions, far before anyone else knew what they were capable of. So, let’s just say I trust this mathematical model more than my (or anyone else’s) ability to simply “guess” the record of a team.
According to Nate’s system, the Nets are poised to win…
Goddammit. To put this into perspective, this is the same number of games that the freakin’ 76ers are supposed to win. They’re trying to lose! And while Silver does state that it’s possible the chip on the Nets’ collective shoulders could push their CARMELO prediction by a few games, I think it’s safe to say that it won’t be by much. While Brook Lopez should be a force to be reckoned with on offense (and will almost certainly make the All Star game), and we still have Joe Johnson and (God help us) Jarrett Jack to take over when the game’s on the line, there really is no hope on defence.
To hammer this point home, I recently picked up NBA 2k16, and began yet another season of MyCareer. This year I decided to play PG for the Nets (usually I pick a team that has at least a chance of being good), to see how far I could take them as a virtual superstar. I am currently an 88 overall, averaging 34.2 PPG, 12.2 APG, and 10.1 RPG for the season. Basically our offence is unstoppable. We average a whopping 111 PPG, 35.5 APG, 54%FG, and only 12.1 TOPG. And we do this with next to no three point shooting (Courtney Lee has somehow been obtained by us, and literally never misses a three pointer as long as I pass to him, yet frustratingly he will never get open even when I instruct him to).
On defence however, we absolutely suck. I can try and shut down the opposing PG, but without any viable rim protection we let everyone else waltz to the basket. So far we are 39-22, which is just 4th in the east. And while we’re finally starting to win more games, it takes much more effort than it should with the unprecedented offence we have. And yes, I know I just spent, like, 1000 words talking about a video game as if it actually matters to real world sports. But I think when you plug in a Russel Westbrook-esque, triple-double machine into a 2k team and they STILL can’t top the Eastern conference, your defence must really, really suck. Unfortunately, real-life stats mirror this.
So what can the Nets do? I think it’s safe to say there will be no miracles this season. We can only hope that a combination of chemistry and a few strokes of luck will help them sneak into the playoffs or just below, and then at least they won’t give up a lottery pick. If they do, I don’t think they’ll ever live it down.
However, if the Nets manage to keep afloat, they do have some options going into next year. One source of hope is the upwards of $40 million in cap room they could have available in the summer. The Nets have allegedly erected a large photograph of the $50 million waterfront practice facility in the opposing locker room of the Barclays Centre, in an attempt to lure upcoming free agents. One guy I hope they’ll go after is Mike Conley (there’s no chance of Durant or Howard). They need a strong, defensive-minded guard to play alongside Lopez, and I think Mike should be seeking to play in the East as the all-star he deserves to be.
Another possibility is that the Nets trade Joe Johnson (currently on an expiring contract) to a near-contender sometime before the deadline. While a tantalising thought, I can’t see a universe in which it could actually happen. Johnson is set to make a ridiculous 25 million dollars this year. No team in the race for a title has that much in assets to give up (without affecting the make-up of their presumably already pretty good team). Especially when CARMELO predicts Joe will contribute just 2.1 WAR (a measure of how many wins a player brings a team relative to a “replacement” or “minimum-level contract” player) this season. However, if someone can get it to work, it will unquestionably be the right thing to do.
I do believe the Nets will be good someday. I have to. Despite an infuriatingly idiotic GM, it helps to have an owner with seemingly never-ending pockets. He for one seems unfazed by the blunders of the last few years, despite betting his marital freedom on the Nets being good by now. So yes, I will continue to believe. I will hold my head high when other NBA fans tease me. I will defend Brook Lopez and even Jarrett Jack. Maybe not Andrea Bargnani… But I will watch every game, and in January I will finally fly the 8,000 miles to Brooklyn to see my beloved team play the Spurs. I will proudly sport my supporters gear and chant that pretty awful “Brooooklyn” when we bring the the ball up-court. It’s all part of being a fan, and it’s one of the greatest things in life. For loving something so strongly is something to be celebrated, not hated on.
This post also appears at Jasmine’s blog, nbarambler.com