For Better and Worse: Brooklyn Nets Still Following Last Year's LA Lakers Path

Ben Leibowitz@BenLeboCorrespondent IIIFebruary 7, 2014

The narrative that has played out so far for the 2013-14 Brooklyn Nets has, in many ways, emulated the Los Angeles Lakers' 2012-13 campaign.

Big-name additions, championship hype and huge expectations quickly turned into poor team chemistry, questionable coaching and tempered outlooks.

The Nets, however, are finally turning their season around.

After a disappointing 10-21 start through December, which had first-year head coach Jason Kidd on the hot seat and players hanging their heads in disappointment, Brooklyn has flipped the script.

A 10-3 record during January earned Kidd Coach of the Month honors and vaulted the Nets back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

Now they have a chance at writing a different story than that Lakers tale.


Additions and Hype

The 2012-13 Lakers reloaded the roster during the offseason with two-time MVP Steve Nash and three-time Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard.

The Purple and Gold surrendered Andrew Bynum and six draft picks (three first-rounders and three second-rounders) for those two additions, which seemed like a small price to pay at the time.

Prior to the regular season, 87 percent of poll voters said that the Lakers’ title chances were “already a foregone conclusion,” according to Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Times.

Additionally, three Los Angeles Times writers predicted that the Lakers were going to win the 2012-13 NBA championship, per Medina.

LA Times writer Ben Bolch wrote at the time, “I’m going to stick with my (widely mocked) prediction from last month that you can mark it down with a Sharpie that the Lakers will win the title.”

Even my modest projection of a 59-23 record—third in the Western Conference—with a loss in the Western Conference Finals was way too generous.

Unfortunately for Lakers fans, D12 stayed for just one disappointing season, and Nash’s body has started to break down since leaving the safe haven provided by the Phoenix Suns training staff.

Championship hype ended in disaster.

Much like the Lakers, the Nets made a blockbuster deal by adding Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry. In the trade, Brooklyn gave up Gerald Wallace, MarShon Brooks, Kris Humphries, Keith Bogans, Kris Joseph, three first-round picks (in 2014, 2016 and 2018) and the right for Boston to swap first-round picks in 2017.

Needless to say, that's a bounty of assets.

Despite giving up a lot of picks to get those aging stars (still fewer picks than the Lakers surrendered), the Nets were showered with lofty expectations. 

Phil Watson of Yahoo! Sports predicted an Eastern Conference Finals showdown between the Nets and Miami Heat in 2014—it could still happen, but let’s just say it isn’t all too likely from what we've seen so far.

The new additions failed to jell immediately, and the team began treading water near the bottom of the Eastern Conference as a result. The January turnaround has truly been the only bright spot.


Thrilled to Move? Not quite.

After Howard left Lakerland for greener pastures with the Houston Rockets, Nash divulged his thoughts on The Mason & Ireland Show on ESPN LA 710 radio, per ESPN's Dave McMenamin:

"Ultimately, I think Dwight wasn't comfortable here and didn't want to be here and I think if he didn't want to be here, there's no point for anyone in him being here," Nash said.

D12 never appeared to be fully committed to the Lakers, which became clear when he bolted for Houston last summer.

Much like Howard, Garnett was apprehensive of his new surroundings.

According to ESPN's Chris Forsberg, Pierce had to convince his Boston Celtics teammate to waive his no-trade clause and accept a trade to Brooklyn.

Since joining the Nets, Garnett butted heads with his new coach due to differing philosophies of back-to-back scenarios. Kidd's stance was that KG shouldn't play in such situations, but "The Big Ticket" fired back by saying, "I just don't want to be told anything. Hopefully I've earned the right to have an opinion in something that I'm doing," per ESPN's Mike Mazzeo.

The former Celtic also became frustrated with the team's losing ways, calling a 5-11 November, "A s----- month," per Gabriel Baumgaertner of Sports Illustrated.

Garnett never wanted to leave Boston, and early struggles merely solidified that stance.


Coaching Drama

Losing games that a hyped team is supposed to win is drama enough, but both the Nets and last year’s Lakers have faced comedy and tragedy on the sidelines.

Former Lakers head coach Mike Brown was fired after a 1-4 start. Interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff got the team back to .500 with a 4-1 stint, but Mike D’Antoni took over from there—a move that still has ESPN’s Arash Markazi shaking his head.

Instead of making a serious run at the “Zen Master,” Phil Jackson, the Lakers front office decided to sign D’Antoni because of his rapport with Nash, according to Markazi.

The Nets, meanwhile, decided to stick with rookie Coach Kidd despite their losing ways.

He reportedly berated assistant coach Lawrence Frank with an expletive-laced tirade earlier in the season prior to re-assigning him to doing daily reports, per ESPN's Marc Stein and Ohm Youngmisuk, and intentionally spilled his drink on the court to get a timeout his team didn’t have—which earned him a $50,000 fine from the league.

Kidd’s Coach of the Month honor for January is a great sign of things to come, but there’s been plenty of drama along the way.


Rough Start and Injuries

Both the Nets and Lakers needed to stay healthy in order to develop team chemistry early in the season, but numerous injuries made that impossible.

Through Jan. 11, 2013, the Lakers posted a 15-21 record. Through that same date in 2014, the Nets were 15-22. Rocky starts have come to define each team.

Nagging ailments to various Lakers ensured that the preseason starting lineup wouldn’t get into a groove, then a torn Achilles ended Bryant’s season in April.

Brooklyn has also experienced those nagging aches and pains—Deron Williams’ ankles, Terry’s knee, Andrei Kirilenko’s back—but the biggest blow was the season-ending broken foot Brook Lopez suffered on Dec. 20.

Both teams lost a star, but the Nets have handled that adversity admirably. They’re 13-8 since Lopez went down, thanks in large part to the play of KG (who has looked far more comfortable as a center) and All-Star Joe Johnson.


Turnarounds and Playoff Hopes

The 2012-13 Lakers entered the month of March with a 29-30 record. They finished the regular season at 45-37.

The Nets have started their own turnaround much earlier by posting a 10-3 mark in January and starting February with a 2-1 record.

The question now is whether or not Brooklyn can get everything rolling in time for the 2014 playoffs.

The Lakers won both of their regular-season contests without Bryant but got swept 4-0 in the playoffs by the San Antonio Spurs. Getting into the playoff picture with the No. 7 seed didn’t help.

Through Feb. 6, the Nets also hold the No. 7 seed. If postseason play started today, they’d face the two-time defending champion Miami Heat. That’s certainly not an ideal matchup.

Brooklyn is back in the playoff hunt, but the team can’t be contented with the recent 180-degree turn of fortunes.

“It’s a sign that we’re showing consistency with what we’re trying to do around here,” Piece said following a Jan. 21 win over the Orlando Magic, according to the Associated Press (via ESPN).

The consistency has been great, but it won’t mean anything if the Nets can’t sustain it.

If Brooklyn can stay healthy moving forward (an admittedly big question mark), it might be able to climb as high as a No. 3-6 seed. That could ensure a favorable first-round matchup, and, consequently, a more favorable story than the Lakers spun a season ago.


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