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Previously on The Brooklyn Nets…
The date is November 1st. The Brooklyn Nets’ season was a downright disaster. They’re struggling at 2-6, Kyrie Irving spontaneously burns off, Ben Simmons is struggling to re-acclimate. Steve Nash is being pushed off the map and Ime Udoka is about to add his melodrama to the Nets mix of extrajudicial storylines.
(fast forward to the present)
The output of the championship contender’s nets evaporated after James Harden was traded amid Irving’s anti-vaccine saga last February. They imploded from within, one of the NBA’s worst defenses, manifested trade demands, turned them down, and then carried that negative energy into the first two weeks of the season. However, since Vaughn was named to succeed Nash, the Nets have undergone an overhaul, emerging with the NBA’s second-best record and fifth-highest net rating.
Over the weekend, Fox Sports aired an interview with James Harden that took place five days before Nash was fired. It’s unclear why they waited so long to release Harden’s comments. Perhaps they thought it would be lost in the eye of Brooklyn’s tornado, but his comments are still revealing about what went wrong with the nets. During the wide-ranging interview, Harden didn’t hold back the atmosphere within the Brooklyn Nets organization, and it confirmed everything you thought about the Nash-era Nets.
“I don’t want to just talk to anyone or whatever. It was just like that, there was no structure and even superstars need structure,” said Harden, looking back on his year at the Net.
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Harden’s criticism of Nets’ structureless internal environment was obvious to anyone with a keen eye, but that was partly the point of Durant and Irving’s reunion. Durant felt bound within the confines of Kerr’s motion offense. Irving was a malcontent in a Boston roster that has twice been on the brink of an NBA Finals. As a franchise’s proxy kingpins, they wanted to represent the highest level of player empowerment.
That lack of structure and accountability came with the promotion of longtime Nets assistant Jacque Vaughn to the head coaching role. Now that the networks’ easily distracted stars have cut their Twitter time, turned their attention from Amazon Prime to hoops, ignored celebrity lawsuits and buckled in, they’re back in the top flight of the league. Vaughn has been instrumental in the Nets’ resurgence and proved he’s more than just a sacrificial lamb.
The Nets offense has had the highest effective field goal percentage in the league for the second time. Their bottom defense was a problem during Nash’s stint. Vaughn began reviving the Nets’ defensive intensity and rebuilding the Switch-heavy defense that Nash had abandoned. The availability of their defensive skeleton key, Ben Simmons, has given them an opportunity to transition in comfort, which wasn’t possible prior to their doomed 2022 playoff sweep.
Aside from a brief reference to Ben Simmons during the Tory Lanez trial, the former No. 1 overall has focused solely on making baskets with no outside distractions. He’s not yet at his best All-Defense Philly form when players defending Simmons shot 4.5% worse than their average during his last full season as a sixer. On the plus side, it no longer pollutes at a productive rate. Availability as the best ability is especially true for Simmons. We didn’t even have to mention Kevin Durant, who hasn’t lost a step and has remained a consistent force this season. There’s no reason to ever mention Durant, as his succinct but efficient playstyle at the MVP level is the status quo.
At the start of their six-game winning streak, the Nets were still just one game over .500. Even beyond their current six-game streak, the Nets have won 10 of their last 11 games. Irving bowed his head and reminded the league why he is a generational talent.
Presumably, this trend should continue as long as the under-the-radar networks remain under-the-radar. The nets were dead silent and gone under the radar. The nets were dead silent and gone under the radar. In Brooklyn’s case. Silence is golden.