Jerome Jordan and Darius Morris and Earl Clark and Markel Brown are not household names. But they were the four on the floor as time ran off the clock and the Brooklyn Nets 2015 playoff season came to an end. Beaten by a 60 win Atlanta Hawks team (Al Horford, Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver) the last playoff moment for the Nets wasn’t particular memorable. Earl Clark missed a 21 footer. And that was that. A home loss in Brooklyn that was more significant than the players knew. In a few months, Deron Williams would be gone. And the Nets, having given away unprotected draft picks to Danny Ainge, would embark on a long and painful rebuilding.
Four years later, the Brooklyn Nets and D’Angelo Russell and Caris LaVert and Jared Dudley and Spencer Dinwiddie are in the playoffs because they won back-to-back games on the road, against the Pacers and Bucks, to clinch a playoff spot. They are in the playoffs before a rebuilding Lakers, Kings, Timberwolves, Suns, and Knicks. They are in the playoffs because they play harder than just about everybody. They are in the playoffs despite not being a top-10 scoring, rebounding, shot blocking, assist team. They are in the playoffs because of their top-10 defense on the three ball. They are in the playoffs because their in-conference record is 28-22, they were nearly .500 on the road, and they won 13 more games than last year.
The Nets have a 20 point scorer in D’Angelo Russell who also is good for 7 assists. Spencer Dinwiddie is a clutch shot maker. Joe Harris makes 47% of his threes. Caris Levert is the Nets most talented offensive player who missed 42 games. Six players average double figures. Jarrett Allen, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Ed Davis are the Nets best defenders.
Four years ago, when the Nets and Deron Williams agreed on a buyout, things looked bleak. Lionel Hollins was fired before the next season hit the midway mark. The Nets then got creative. They signed a never been a GM before Sean Marks, a former player and assistant coach. They hired Kenny Atkinson to be their head coach. And then they made moves.
They traded for Rondae Hollis-Jefferson on draft night in 2015. They traded for Caris LeVert a week after the draft of 2016. They signed Joe Harris. In December 2016, they signed Spencer Dinwiddie. They agreed to take on the bloated contract of Timofey Mozgov if D’Angelo Russell came in the deal in 2017. They gave away a draft pick which was used to draft Kyle Kuzma but they drafted Jarrett Allen in the 2017 draft.
Growing pains was natural but it all came together in 2018-19. Let’s not kid ourselves. They wouldn’t have made the playoffs if they were in the West. But then Sacramento would have made the playoffs if they were in the East. The Nets did what they were supposed to do, excel in their conference. And they did it as a very young team being led by a 23 year old Russell and a 24 year old Caris LaVert.
All of this Nets doing things was a consequence of a front office bungling their job. In their zeal to win now, when the Nets acquired Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in 2013, they gave the Celtics everything but their last twenty dollars. I mean everything. The only way the Nets could compete without draft picks was to make trades to build the core of their young team. They were creative and it has paid off.
1,437 days later, the Nets are back in the playoffs.