5 People We Should Credit for Turning Brooklyn Nets' Season Around
Before the ball dropped on New Year’s Eve, the most expensive roster in league history was nothing short of an underachieving, injury-prone catastrophe.
Once January appeared, though, things changed.
And just when Jason Kidd seemed like he was in way over his head, the rookie head coach made it clear that he could thrive just as well on the sidelines as he could running the point.
Just a handful of games over .500, an obstacle that Brooklyn cleared for the first time all season on March 9, the Nets’ record is incredibly deceiving. Most average teams are wading around the .500 mark, but Brooklyn is a legitimate threat in the Eastern Conference.
As extraordinary as it has been, the Nets’ U-turn from pitiful to elite can’t be credited to one person. Since it’s difficult to acknowledge every single soul that’s played a part in it, I’ve narrowed it down to the top five.
Unless otherwise noted, all stats and information courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and accurate as of March 17.
5. Deron Williams
As is usually the case, Deron Williams was plagued by injuries in 2013-14. But after overcoming a pair of shaky ankles, D-Will has returned to his old, shifty ways.
Kidd had been careful in the handling of his PG’s minutes at first, but No.8 has played 30-plus minutes every game in March, pacing Brooklyn with over 16 points a game since the All-Star break.
Shaun Livingston admirably filled in when Williams was in and out of the lineup, but the Nets need an electrifying presence on the floor to complement veterans like KG and Pierce.
Since Williams returned to the lineup for good on January 20, the Nets have gone 16-9, moved into the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference and climbed within 3.5 games of the Toronto Raptors for the Atlantic Division lead.
Prior to the All-Star break, the eight-year veteran told reporters that his health had frustrated him:
I just want to get healthy again, man. If I get healthy, I know what can happen. It’s been a frustrating two years for me injury-wise. It’s something I can’t really control. Hopefully I can figure it out this summer and then go from there.
The Nets aren’t going anywhere without a healthy D-Will, whose perseverance in overcoming those injury obstacles has played an enormous part in turning Brooklyn’s season around.
4. Mikhail Prokhorov
For a guy who promised to give up his playboy lifestyle and get married if the Nets didn't win a title in five years, Mikhail Prokhorov has displayed tremendous patience this season.
Asking a first-year coach to lead a team of players who just last season were his peers was very bold by Brooklyn’s front office. At first glance, it looked like a disaster.
As the Nets continued to stumble out of the gate, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reported in late December that Kidd's job was on thin ice:
The Nets had tried to be supportive of Kidd, but patience is running low on the belief he can deliver the structure and organization desperately needed. As the Nets have devolved into chaos, Kidd has increasingly isolated himself within the locker room and organization, sources told Yahoo Sports. From management to players, Kidd has shown an inability to manage crisis and keep the respect of his players.
A few weeks later, Kidd's phone rang—it was his boss. According to ESPNNewYork.com’s Mike Mazzeo, Prokhorov's message was clear: “You’re not on the hot seat. Don’t believe what you read. Ignore the critics. You’re my guy.”
Could the Russian billionaire have yanked the plug on this whole experiment two months into the season? Absolutely—and no one would’ve second-guessed him.
But he stuck it out, Kidd came into his own and the Nets started winning.
3. Paul Pierce
All that talk about how Paul Pierce was washed up, had nothing left in the tank and was no longer a star—it was just one big lie.
Make no mistake about it: No.34 is still The Truth.
Pierce has undergone as much of a transformation as Brooklyn has from the beginning of the season until now.
Prior to January 1, which has become the magical date of the turnaround in Nets folklore, the 36-year-old was putting up about 13 points per game on 40 percent shooting. Since then, Pierce has been able to give Brooklyn over 14 points per contest while hitting more than 46 percent of his field-goal attempts.
Here’s an even more telling stat: Before New Year’s, Pierce had totaled just two 20-plus-point games. Since then? Six.
Pierce is no longer able to carry a ballclub game in and game out, but on any given night, he could explode. Take the 29-point performance against the Miami Heat on March 12, for example.
Brooklyn is actually the perfect place for Pierce, who will become a free agent this summer, because he doesn’t have to shoulder the load every night. That’s why Williams and Joe Johnson are there.
But when the shots start falling and that smile starts beaming, don’t sleep on The Truth.
If Pierce can continue to increase his overall level of play heading into the playoffs, the Nets are going to be a dangerous team.
2. The New York Knicks
Ah, the other team in New York.
The Knicks ruled all things basketball in their home state entering the 2013-14 season, but the Nets have surpassed them—for now, at least.
I’d like to take you back to a scene on January 20 at Madison Square Garden—the Nets’ starters cheering from the bench as the clock runs out, the Knicks slumping their shoulders and lifelessly surrendering a season-altering loss.
After rattling off a stretch of six wins in seven contests, Brooklyn absolutely stomped New York 103-80.
That game made a statement for both sides. Equally poor seasons until that point had troubled both Big Apple teams, as the Nets entered just a game up on the Knicks in the win column.
Since that fateful day at MSG, the Nets have gone up (sixth seed in the East) and the Knicks have spiraled downward (ninth seed).
While the Nets have played better overall basketball than their in-state counterparts, the Knicks still win the media battle. Every story, TV/radio discussion topic or source of attention seems to always be directed at the blue and orange.
The Nets should be fine with that.
They should actually thank the Knicks for distracting and attracting more critics in the beginning of the year, and then giving Brooklyn a game that would serve as a springboard for the rest of its season.
1. Jason Kidd
It was fair game to take shots at him when his team was getting smacked every night, but now that the Nets are winning, it’s time to give Jason Kidd his due.
Putting Kidd at the helm of this roster—one which boasted an All-Star at every starting spot coming into the season—in his first year on the job appeared to be too much to handle for the rookie.
Brooklyn struggled initially, beginning the season 10-21. We jumped all over him.
Fans booed Kidd and chanted for his dethroning during an embarrassing Christmas day loss to the Chicago Bulls. ESPN's David Thorpe (h/t The Brooklyn Game) called him the “worst coach in the NBA.” Heck, back on January 3, I even wrote, “it was unwise of Mikhail Prokhorov to give Kidd a head coaching job nine days after he announced his retirement as a player.”
But this is J-Kidd we’re dealing with here—we should’ve known better.
Throughout 2013-14, he’s been able to maintain control of the locker room and maximize his entire roster. An especially important aspect of his rookie campaign has been that the Nets were tormented with early injuries.
You know what, though? Kidd wasn’t all that great early on. On November 19, he took responsibility for Brooklyn’s slow start. Speaking with reporters, he pointed to "bad coaching” as the reason for the his team's poor play.
"I take the blame for this," he said.
The first-year coach wasn’t the primary reason that the Nets started slow, but he was a factor. Now, while Kidd isn’t solely responsible for Brooklyn’s resurgence, he’s right at the forefront.