TrueHoop: Brooklyn Nets

Nothin' but the same old Nets

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
9:30
AM ET
By Devin Kharpertian
Special to ESPN.com
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NetsAP Photo/Kathy WillensThree years after making the move to Brooklyn, the Nets are ... still the Nets.
It was 24 minutes of basketball bliss, the perfect half to respond to Joe Johnson’s vicious comments lambasting unnamed teammates for selfishness. At a rare moment of full health, the Brooklyn Nets spread the ball around to find open shots with slick improvisation and skillful execution. They took command against the Phoenix Suns, a tough team from a tougher conference, leading by as much as 19 points and boasting six different players with at least three makes from the floor.

Twenty-four minutes later and the house of cards had come crumbling down. The Suns, led by New Jersey Nets castoff Gerald Green, took full control over their suddenly hapless opponent, winning 112-104 as Brooklyn reverted to isolation basketball and confoundingly poor play for a collection of stars.

It was the perfect summation of the Nets’ first three seasons in Brooklyn: a flashy beginning, flush with promise, ending in a thud.

Since moving from Newark in 2012, the Nets have tried to have it all: Spurs crispness, Celtics legacy, Lakers glamour and Knicks fans. A supremely executed marketing blitz took over the perpetually up-and-coming borough, with players plastered everywhere from subway advertisements to bridge billboards. The team opened last season flush with 36 combined All-Star appearances on its roster, with marquee names and championship aspirations.

But nearly four years since the day the team cashed in its blue-chip assets for Deron Williams, one that then-Nets coach Avery Johnson called a "celebration," they’ve ended up with … well, the Nets: a collection of overpaid, underathletic, fading stars who can't keep up with the newer, fresher NBA flying past them.

They had a plan: win before 2016, and if they didn’t, wipe the slate clean and try it again, with superstars like Kevin Durant entering the free-agent market. But outside of a few surprising moments of clarity, their on-court product has been bland and depressing, leading to rumors of an expedited rebuild. Even Russian ownership seems willing to take a step back, listening to offers for minority stakes (and, as the rumor goes, for majority ones) this season. So much for faith in 2016.

With two years left on the docket, with two playoff exits and a $144 million loss in basketball-related expenses last season, the Nets can only claim exhausting mediocrity. This isn't an identity crisis; that would require having an identity in the first place. There's no unifying aspect of the Nets to point to. They're just trying to make sure you're pointing at them.

Their three best players, earning a combined $58.65 million this year, are now on the trade block, and more known for their flaws than their strengths. Williams has regained some of his quickness and shooting touch, but has struggled to score around the basket the past two seasons. Joe Johnson earned the moniker "Joe Jesus" for his near-invincibility in crunch time, but is one of the worst offenders in the team's isolation-heavy attack when things go downhill. Brook Lopez is a talented post scorer and walking trade asset who has barely been able to walk the past year.

[+] EnlargeKevin Garnett
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesDespite paying a high price for veteran talent, the "new-look" Nets have yet to forge an identity.
Sure, there was one exciting five-month stretch, starting in January 2014, when the Nets went full-bore weird to smooth over the loss of Lopez and confounded opponents by favoring players over positions, putting Paul Pierce next to three perimeter players and using Shaun Livingston as a point guard/power forward hybrid. The Nets went 34-17 in that stretch, played an exciting-as-all-hell first-round series with the Toronto Raptors that went down to the last play of Game 7, and eventually fell to the Miami Heat in Round 2.

Outside of that, the Nets have largely gone to the same formula, despite three coaching changes since the move to New York. They've played one of the league's slowest paces. When their offense begins to fail, they inevitably fall into the traps of iso basketball. They have yet to figure out how to put together a top-10 defense around Lopez, or how to get Johnson and Williams clicking together for long stretches. They run Lionel Hollins' throwback flex offense in staggered stretches, and turn to Johnson at the end of close games. That’s about it.

They leave you wanting. You see the flashes of greatness, and at the same time know they won’t ever be great. There's no dynamic star, no blue-chip building block, no ace draft pick. Just a lot of money and an increasingly disinterested group ambling toward nowhere.

The Brooklyn Nets have built their identity on what they could be, what they should be. But in three seasons, they have yet to be much of anything at all. Now comes hints of another rebuild, which almost seems necessary at this point, if only to give a wavering fanbase a fresh face to believe in. But for now, they are what they are: walking and talking, but yet to figure out where they want to go or what they want to say.

Devin Kharpertian is the managing editor and founding partner at The Brooklyn Game. Follow him, @uuords.

Can Hollins forge a new path for Nets?

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
11:57
PM ET
Mason By Beckley Mason
Special to ESPN.com
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Lionel HollinsNathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty ImagesNew Nets coach Lionel Hollins must figure out a new identity in the team's third year in Brooklyn.
At this time last year, the question in Brooklyn was whether the Nets’ old roster could stay healthy enough to make an impact in the postseason. Not whether they’d make it, mind you. That seemed a foregone conclusion after the team mortgaged its future to add Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to its pricey veteran core.

Expectations were quickly recalibrated once the Nets struggled out of the gate and Brook Lopez was lost for the season, but an Eastern Conference championship, even with Miami’s big three still in tact and boasting the past three East titles, at that time seemed within the realm of possibility.

Today, no one is looking at the Nets as a contender. After the offseason departures of Jason Kidd and Pierce, and the recent injury setback to Lopez, the question this season is whether Lionel Hollins, the franchise’s fourth head coach since the move onto Flatbush Avenue and into the NBA conversation in 2012, can forge some semblance of an identity from the remnants of last season’s all-in approach.

Hollins’ history is a mixed bag. His Memphis teams stressed defense first, with offenses that were below average. In training camp Hollins crowed that the Grizzlies players who ended up making first and second all-NBA defense teams weren’t known as shut-down defenders until he started coaching them.

Is what Tony Allen does really something you can coach? Is the way Marc Gasol moves 7-feet and 260 pounds to stymie a point guard something anyone can learn?

We’re about to find out.

It would be a mistake to expect Lopez to cover ground like Gasol, or anyone in the Nets backcourt to chase, harry and disrupt like Allen and Mike Conley. Hollins’ system in Memphis was a team effort, but it relied on superb individual defenders controlling one-on-one matchups. In contrast, last season’s Nets defended best when they switched with abandon, squeezing their opponents up against the shot clock as the offense searched for an opening against interchangeable defenders. Deflections, turnovers and long possessions: The effects were similar, the methods divergent.

Will Hollins follow in Kidd’s footsteps? It sounds like he is advocating the same all-out pressure and physicality he did in Memphis. “We want to make it so every possession is so hard that when we get to the last four or five minutes of a game, shots that may have been going in now start falling short because they’re tired, or because they’re getting lazy with passes, maybe they don’t execute as well and we get steals. It’s a process for 48 minutes.”

But is such a style sustainable in Brooklyn? It is a fool’s errand to expect his Nets, who may not start a single player under 30, to play with the same defensive energy as his much younger Grizzlies did. Back-to-backs, road trips and customary bumps and bruises that accompany the 82-game season will simply wear more on the Nets older joints. You just aren’t getting more than 20-25 minutes a night of all-out effort from Garnett these days.

[+] EnlargeNets
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty ImagesThe holdovers from last season's all-in approach will try to piece together a contender in Brooklyn.
Ironically, Hollins’ reputation for uninventive offensive tactics may not be much of a problem in Brooklyn. In Lopez, Joe Johnson and Deron Williams, the Nets have three of the best post players at their respective positions. You could do worse than running something simple to get one of those three the opportunity to go to work from the mid post. Of course, you could also do better, do more.

That’s sort of where the Nets as a whole stand right now. You could do worse than what they have. Johnson is still a heck of a two-way player. Lopez, if healthy, is entering his prime and was wrecking opposing frontlines before he hurt his foot. Whether Williams ever recovers the burst that made him a superstar, he’s still a solid two-way guard.

But with the Nets’ obscenely bloated payroll and the attractiveness of the New York market to players around the league, you could also do a whole lot better. There’s little inspiration in the borough that is the creative hub of the world’s most powerful city. No draft picks, no projects, no imagination.

Pierce, who said the Nets told him they were not interested in chasing a championship this year, put it this way: “They're kind of in the middle right now. And I really didn't want to be in the middle.”

GM Billy King was more bullish. “Our goal is still to try to win a championship,” King said. “We're not taking steps back or anything like that.”

In broad terms, that may be true. But with owner Mikhail Prokhorov reportedly exploring selling his majority stake in the team, and yet another coach looking to reshape things, it’s hard to see how the Nets can move forward. Instead of championships, simply establishing an identity and culture that can last for more than eight months would count as a success.

Future Power Rankings highs and lows

September, 9, 2014
Sep 9
11:08
AM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
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The future of the Spurs and Cavs looks bright. Not so for some of the marquee franchises, including the Lakers, Knicks and Nets.

Livingston puts a bounce in Warriors' steps

July, 1, 2014
Jul 1
11:42
PM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
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 Shaun Livingston and Stephen CurryBrad Penner/USA TODAY Sports Shaun Livingston will be working alongside Stephen Curry with the Warriors next season.

The Golden State Warriors' three-year, $16 million agreement (third year partially guaranteed) with Shaun Livingston addresses a basketball issue so basic it has been easy to miss: The Warriors need a guy who can dribble. Too much of the offense has been dependent on Stephen Curry, in part due to Curry’s incredible talent and in part due to how the Warriors have lacked for competent ball handlers.

Livingston is a guy you can trust with the rock, as he can drive, dish and post up depending on the situation. What he can’t do is shoot 3-pointers, a staple of Golden State’s perimeter offense. Though he has yet to develop the skill, his .827 free throw mark might speak to some potential in that area.

This is a move the Warriors make even if they aren’t eyeing a future without Klay Thompson, who has been linked to Kevin Love trade talks. That said, the move makes parting with Klay less painful should they choose to go that route.

On the face of it, Livingston and Thompson couldn’t be more different in terms of basketball skills. Livingston handles and passes, while Thompson shoots and, well, shoots. The similarity comes on the defensive end where both players can leverage their length to bother opposing perimeter players. Should the Warriors cast aside their reluctance and deal Thompson for Love, they can ask Livingston to fill in for Thompson defensively.

In Golden State’s defensive system under former coach Mark Jackson, Thompson would defend opposing point guards, leaving Curry hidden on a less talented perimeter player. This strategy allowed Curry some rest, spared him unfavorable matchups and got opposing teams into mismatches when the ball changed sides. The Warriors can resume doing this, even without Thompson. And, should they hold on to Thompson, they’ve just acquired someone who can find him for many a 3-pointer.

Gift of Love: 29 trades for 29 teams

May, 21, 2014
May 21
11:07
AM ET
Harper By Zach Harper
Special to ESPN.com
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Kevin LoveBrad Rempel/USA TODAY Sports
The end is nigh. Or so it seems. Reports about Kevin Love’s uncertain future with the Minnesota Timberwolves are coming out left and right. Every team in the league is positioning itself to capture the star power on the market right now.

With the draft a little more than a month away, it would behoove the Timberwolves to maximize the trade market now while cap flexibility, draft picks and crushed lottery night dreams are fresh in the minds of the potential suitors.

The Wolves don’t have the upper hand in this situation, but they do have the ability to leverage ravenous front offices against one another and create a trade-market bidding war. As team president Flip Saunders and owner Glen Taylor face a gut-check moment of whether to risk Love leaving for nothing in summer 2015, here are the deals I would blow up their phones with if I were in charge of one of the 29 teams in the league.


Atlanta Hawks


The deal: Trade Machine

Hawks receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Paul Millsap, Dennis Schroder, the rights to Lucas Nogueira, No. 15 pick in 2014

This is a big haul for the Hawks to give up, with three rotation guys plus the pick going to Minnesota. But pairing Love and Al Horford together in Mike Budenholzer’s offense would be an alien invasion without Bill Pullman and Will Smith to fight it off. For the Wolves, Millsap is a nice option you can win with now and flip if he isn’t happy; Schroder is the backup point guard they crave; and Nogueira would give the Wolves a tandem with Gorgui Dieng that makes Nikola Pekovic and his contract expendable.


Boston Celtics


The deal: Trade Machine

Celtics receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Kelly Olynyk, Jared Sullinger, Brandon Bass, Phil Pressey, Vitor Faverani, Nos. 6 and 17 picks in 2014, Celtics’ first-round pick in 2016

Here, the Wolves are basically getting the picks and then a bunch of cap filler and former first-rounders. There’s no reason to pretend Olynyk and Sullinger would be pieces for the Wolves at all. Being a Wolves fan since they've come into the NBA, I am pretty good at recognizing overvalued first-round picks who won’t be as good as you hope they are. This is about the picks, and with Nos. 6, 13 and 17 in this draft, they could load up or move up.


Brooklyn Nets

The deal: Trade Machine

Nets receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: The 2003 Kevin Garnett

Look, I don’t know how owner Mikhail Prokhorov got his hands on a time machine, either, but billionaires have access to things we don’t. Let’s just take advantage of the opportunity to grab 2003 Kevin Garnett and get this team back into the playoffs.


Charlotte Hornets


The deal: Trade Machine

Hornets receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Cody Zeller, Gary Neal, Nos. 9 and 24 picks in 2014

The Wolves never got to truly test out the Al Jefferson-Love big man tandem because Love wasn’t that great yet and Jefferson hurt his knee. They get a redo in Charlotte in this scenario, and with coach Steve Clifford’s defensive stylings, it could actually work.

Wolves would get a former No. 2 pick with potential; Zeller, whom they were enamored with before last year’s draft; and two first-round picks. The Pistons conceding the No. 9 pick to the Bobcats makes this a very attractive deal.


Chicago Bulls


The deal: Trade Machine

Bulls receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Carlos Boozer, Jimmy Butler, the rights to Nikola Mirotic, Ronnie Brewer, Nos. 16 and 19 picks in 2014

Of the most realistic trade scenarios for the Wolves in unloading Love for assets, cap relief and picks, this is probably the best move they could make, unless Phoenix is willing to be bold. You could also swap out Boozer for Taj Gibson, but his long-term money isn’t ideal for a rebuilding team. The Wolves could flip him to a contender later. The Bulls would be giving up a lot, but a big three of Joakim Noah, Love and Derrick Rose (assuming he's healthy) is an amazing way to battle whatever the Heat end up being after this season.


Cleveland Cavaliers


The deal: Trade Machine

Cavaliers receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, Alonzo Gee, No. 1 pick in 2014

Why would the Cavaliers possibly trade the No. 1 pick in a loaded class, plus three rotation players, for Love? Because they seem to have a pipe dream of bringing LeBron James back to Cleveland this summer and this is the way to do it. It’s not stockpiling a bunch of young role players for James to play alongside. He wants to play with stars, and having Love and Kyrie Irving in tow would go a long way.


Dallas Mavericks


Mavericks receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: 2011 NBA championship banner and one free pass for a business idea on “Shark Tank”

I’ve always had a problem with teams hanging up “division title” banners in an arena because it seems like a lower-level franchise thing to do. Considering the Wolves are about to lose their best player and potentially miss the playoffs for an 11th straight season, it’s safe to consider them on that lower level right now.

It would be nice to take down the 2003-04 division title banner and replace it with a championship banner. And the extra revenue from getting a business idea funded through “Shark Tank” could give this organization a little extra money to play around with during the next few years. The Wolves are renovating their arena, so they could use the cash.


Denver Nuggets


The deal: Trade Machine

Nuggets receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Kenneth Faried, Danilo Gallinari, Darrell Arthur, Randy Foye, No. 11 pick in 2014

Coach Brian Shaw gets his coveted big-time power forward and a nice offensive complement to Ty Lawson in the backcourt. While Martin isn't even close to being a defender, he at least has some size to utilize on offense.

The Wolves get a lot of quality players and a couple of veterans (Arthur and Foye) they can flip. They could even add a lottery pick here in this draft, although this sort of feels like a lot in return. Oh, who cares? The Wolves get to be greedy here.


Detroit Pistons


Pistons receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Stan Van Gundy

I don't want your horrible Josh Smith contract and shot selection that makes most government agencies look like well-oiled machines. I don’t want an improbable sign-and-trade deal with Greg Monroe. I don’t want any of the young players. I don’t even want the pick. I want SVG in all of his coaching glory and I’m willing to relinquish this fake GM power to him when the trade is completed. I’m going full-on Veruca Salt on this one. I want Stan Van Gundy to coach the Wolves and I want it now!


Golden State Warriors


The deal: Trade Machine

Warriors receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: David Lee, Harrison Barnes, Klay Thompson, right to swap picks in 2015 and 2016

I don’t actually think this is a good trade, but it allows me to bring up a point. I get the mindset of wanting to maximize the value you receive in a trade versus what you’re sending out. But there are Warriors fans worried about giving up Thompson and Barnes in a deal for Love, while ridding themselves of Lee’s contract. Back when the Clippers were trading for Chris Paul, there were fans and writers who thought it was a bad idea to include Eric Gordon. Think about that now. Sometimes it can get out of hand for players who probably won’t be All-Stars.


Houston Rockets


The deal: Trade Machine

Rockets receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Jeremy Lin, Donatas Motiejunas, Chandler Parsons, Jordan Hamilton, first-round picks in 2015 and 2017

This is an incredibly tricky situation because while the Rockets have lots of assets to move, the inclusion of Parsons makes the deal really difficult. The Wolves would need to pick up his team option for next season, but that means he’s an unrestricted free agent in 2015. How likely is it that he will want to stay in Minnesota?

Lin’s contract will cost more than owner Glen Taylor wants to pay for a non-winning team. Motiejunas would be the best prospect in the deal and you’re taking late first-round picks in the future. Can we just forget this deal and ask Hakeem Olajuwon to be an adviser to the Wolves instead?


Indiana Pacers


The deal: Trade Machine

Pacers receive: Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic
Wolves receive: Roy Hibbert, David West

I want to see just how good of a coach Frank Vogel is. The Wolves were 29th in defending the restricted area this season, and I would guess the only reason they weren’t the worst is because of Dieng’s late-season rim defense. The Pacers were the best at defending the rim this season. Can Vogel keep that defensive prowess with these non-shot-blockers? Can the Wolves defend the rim with these two big men? These two teams don’t match up at all in the trade department, so we might as well experiment.


Los Angeles Clippers


The deal: Trade Machine

Clippers receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Blake Griffin, Jamal Crawford

I don’t know why the Clippers would ever do this trade, but it’s unfair for other fan bases to have all of the fun and none of the depression. Griffin gets to receive alley-oop passes from Ricky Rubio while Crawford dazzles the media members with his dribbling and charm.

The Clippers get another shooter to stretch the floor to allow DeAndre Jordan to further develop. Martin wouldn’t exactly add anything to what the Clippers do now, but again, I’m sick of all the depression in these scenarios, so just take one for the team, please.


Los Angeles Lakers


The deal: Trade Machine

Lakers receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Steve Nash, Robert Sacre, Nick Young, MarShon Brooks, No. 7 pick in 2014, future first-round pick, Flip Saunders gets a statue outside Staples Center, Minneapolis Lakers’ title banners

In this scenario, I suffered a head injury when I tried to pull off one of those 360 layups Swaggy P loves to do so much and I fell into the celebrating elbows of Sacre. It left me a little woozy, but I think I came up with a good deal to finally get Love to Los Angeles. Nash's deal is expiring, Sacre and Ronny Turiaf form the greatest bench-cheering duo ever, Young gets to teach me that layup and Brooks is cap filler. Those Minneapolis Lakers banners will look great at Target Center, too.


Memphis Grizzlies


The deal: Trade Machine

Grizzlies receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Zach Randolph, James Johnson, Jon Leuer, Jamaal Franklin, first-round pick in 2017

This does one thing that’s pretty cool: It gives a Grizzlies team that struggled to score in the half court two very good half-court scorers. They lose some toughness but they can actually round out their overall game quite a bit. For the Wolves, it gives them the potential for a Pekovic-Randolph-Johnson frontcourt, which, if Randolph opts in this summer, will protect Minnesota when the zombie apocalypse happens. Nobody is taking out that frontcourt.


Miami Heat


The deal: Trade Machine

Heat receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Chris Bosh, Norris Cole, right to swap first-round picks in 2016 and 2018

The Wolves are torn between a full-on rebuild (try selling that to the fans again during this decade-long playoff drought) and trying to still find a way to sneak into the playoffs. Granted, Bosh has to agree to this deal by not opting out of his contract this summer, but the Wolves would at least remain hyper-competitive on the playoff bubble. They’d also grab a backup point guard who isn’t as erratic as the incumbent, J.J. Barea.

The Heat get younger and give LeBron the chance to really have a great second scorer with him in his next deal in Miami.


Milwaukee Bucks


The deal: Trade Machine

Bucks receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Larry Sanders, O.J. Mayo, No. 2 pick in 2014, Wisconsin has to pretend the Vikings are the best team in the league

Sure, Sanders has the potential to be a nice defender in this league for a long time, Mayo would be a possible cap-relief trade chip in a year and the No. 2 pick, whoever it ends up being, could be a major star in this league. But the win here for Minnesota is Wisconsin having to pretend the Vikings are the best. A fan base that was 27th in attendance in the NBA and 13th in attendance in the NFL doesn't really care how they make out in any Love deal. They just want the football win. Vikings fans aren't used to getting a lot of those.


New Orleans Pelicans


The deal: Trade Machine

Pelicans receive: Kevin Love, Chase Budinger
Wolves receive: Anthony Davis, Eric Gordon

Sure, you guys are laughing at me and how ridiculous this is, but in my head the deal has been made and I’m doing a little dance of celebration. Have your laughter, and I’ll have my delusional mind, and never the twain shall meet.


New York Knicks


The deal: Trade Machine

Knicks receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: [processing ...]

The Knicks gave up a first-round pick to get Andrea Bargnani. Comparable value means they’d have to give up the entire Wall Street district for Love. I can’t even pretend there is a combination here that works for the Wolves. Maybe they could do a double sign-and-trade and swap Love for Carmelo Anthony? Someone ask cap guru Larry Coon if this is allowed. Can we get a reality show just recording La La’s face when Melo has to tell her they’re moving to Minneapolis?


Oklahoma City Thunder


The deal: Trade Machine

Thunder receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Serge Ibaka, Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones III, Hasheem Thabeet, Mavericks’ first-round pick in 2014, Thunder’s first-round pick in 2017

I’m not going to be unrealistic and pretend Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook are in play here, but there’s no reason the Wolves can’t ask for Ibaka, while also unloading Martin’s deal (three years, $20 million left) and picking up young talent in Lamb and Jones, a first-round pick this year and an unprotected pick in 2017. Why 2017? Let’s pretend this Thunder thing doesn’t work out and Love and Durant both leave in 2016. In this scenario, the Wolves position themselves to take advantage of a team falling apart. It’s like what every team does to Minnesota every single time it trades a draft pick.


Orlando Magic


The deal: Trade Machine

Magic receive: Kevin Love, No. 13 pick in 2014
Wolves receive: Victor Oladipo, Andrew Nicholson, Jameer Nelson, No. 4 pick in 2014

I recognize that the Wolves getting the No. 2 pick from last year’s draft plus the No. 4 pick in this draft seems like a lot, but Love is a lot better than Oladipo and it’s not all that close. Even if Oladipo maximizes his potential, he’s probably not reaching Love’s status. Flip was enamored with Oladipo heading into the 2013 draft and would probably be willing to swap firsts with the Magic this year in order to complete this trade.


Philadelphia 76ers


The deal: Trade Machine

76ers receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Thaddeus Young, Jason Richardson, Nos. 3 and 10 picks in 2014

The Wolves get a young asset, cap relief and two lottery picks in this draft in exchange for Love and getting rid of Martin’s deal. It sounds like the Sixers are giving up a lot here, but they have assets to spare. You’re teaming Love with a defensive-minded center in Nerlens Noel and a pass-first point guard in Michael Carter-Williams. Plus, the Sixers still have room to add another major player.


Phoenix Suns


The deal: Trade Machine

Suns receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Eric Bledsoe, Timberwolves' first-round pick in 2015

This is the dream scenario. The Wolves would have to convince Bledsoe to want to play in Minnesota, and then execute a sign-and-trade. Most likely, they’d have to max out Bledsoe in the process. The Suns do it because of the knee concern for Bledsoe, and Love is a much better player who fits coach Jeff Hornacek’s style of play. Getting their top-12 protected pick back for dumping Wes Johnson in Phoenix helps, too. It’s a risk by the Suns and a concession by the Wolves, but this is the “fingers crossed” scenario.


Portland Trail Blazers


The deal: Trade Machine

Trail Blazers receive: Kevin Love, medium-quality bike lanes from Minneapolis
Wolves receive: LaMarcus Aldridge, second-best bike lanes from Portland

This needs to happen and it doesn’t have anything to do with basketball. I just want to see both fan bases reverse course on the vitriol thrown each other’s way when discussing which power forward is better. The Blazers fans would have to embrace Love as the top PF while the Wolves fans pretend they never meant the things they said about Aldridge’s rebounding.

The bike lane aspect of this trade would really help Portland take back its title as top cycling city in the country.


Sacramento Kings


The deal: Trade Machine

Kings receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: DeMarcus Cousins, Derrick Williams, Jason Terry

This one doesn't even involve a draft pick because Cousins has so much potential. The Kings can take a big man with the No. 8 pick this year and pair him next to Love. Martin returns to Sacramento and doesn't have Tyreke Evans to hog the ball and make him want to get out of town. Terry is salary-cap relief for the Wolves, and they can to try a do-over with Williams. This trade can’t happen until after July 1, so that and reality are the only two hang-ups right now.


San Antonio Spurs


Spurs receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Gregg Popovich

This works out perfectly in a couple of ways. Let’s say the Spurs win the title this year and we see Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili ride off into the sunset. Love would immediately be the replacement for Duncan and give the Spurs a bridge from this era into the next successful one.

For the Wolves, I don’t even want to subject Popovich to coaching the team. He should just be a consultant for a month and let the organization know all of the awful ways in which they do things and the way the Spurs “would never consider something like this.” He’d essentially be The Wolf in "Pulp Fiction" for Minnesota.


Toronto Raptors


The deal: Trade Machine

Raptors receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Jonas Valanciunas, Terrence Ross, John Salmons, No. 20 pick in 2014, Knicks’ first-round pick in 2016

It would leave the Raptors searching for a big man to protect the paint, but in today’s NBA, you could get away with a Love-Amir Johnson frontcourt against a lot of teams. The Wolves get the young assets they crave, the draft picks they need and the cap relief necessary to keep their options open. They’d have to move Pekovic next, and they don’t get rid of Martin's contract in this scenario, but it’s a good start to the rebuilding plan. This might be a lot for the Raptors to give up, but general manager Masai Ujiri can just fleece the next four trades he makes and even it all out.


Utah Jazz


The deal: Trade Machine

Jazz receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Derrick Favors, Jeremy Evans, John Lucas III, Rudy Gobert, No. 5 pick in 2014

Requesting the Jazz’s top big man and the fifth pick is asking Utah to do the Wolves quite the ... Favor(s) ... you know? No? Wait, where are you guys going? I still have one more team to poach players from!


Washington Wizards


The deal: Trade Machine

Wizards receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Bradley Beal, Nene

This would be an incredibly tough decision for the Wizards to make. They have one of the best young shooting guards in the NBA, and pairing him with John Wall would produce an awesome tandem for a decade. And yet, they could upgrade for Love while still keeping a scorer at the shooting guard position. In the process, they’d rid themselves of the long-term money owed to Nene. They would owe long-term money to Martin, though.

It’s not an ideal scenario in a few ways, but you’d be making this team a big threat. Plus, it would give coach Randy Wittman a chance to apologize for telling a young Love that he should abandon the 3-point shot.

The Nets' history, as told from the sidelines

May, 14, 2014
May 14
10:15
AM ET
By Jake Appleman
Special to ESPN.com
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Julius Erving Kevin Garnett and Jason KiddGetty Images
Drazen Petrovic had just poured in 44 points against the Houston Rockets in January 1993. Herb Turetzky, the Nets’ official scorer, told Petrovic to sign the sneakers he played in.

“Why, Herb?” Petrovic asked.

Turetzky conveyed the magnitude of the moment to the budding Croatian star: 44 points in an NBA game is a big deal. Petrovic noted that he had scored over a hundred points before in Europe.

Petrovic’s response is just one standout memory for Turetzky, part of a journey that began with the franchise’s first game as the New Jersey Americans at the Teaneck Armory in 1967. The Americans moved to Long Island the next year and became the Nets. Turetzky, a fresh-faced student from LIU who loved to keep score, followed along.

We asked Turetzky, who from his sideline seat has seen the Nets grow from ABA also-rans to NBA Eastern Conference contenders, for his most memorable moments in Nets history. These -- condensed for clarity -- are some of his responses:

On the Americans losing the franchise’s first playoff game via forfeit to the Kentucky Colonels, after the circus moved the game from Teaneck to an unusable court in Commack, Long Island:

“I remember seeing holes on the floor that my shoe could go through. There was separation between the boards, spots where the screws weren’t in. They weren’t ready for it. They tried to put it together in an emergency. I was on the phone for two hours trying to track down Louie [Carnesecca] at St. John’s, to see if they could get us in there to play the game. We just couldn’t find a way to put it together. Gene Rhodes was the coach of the Colonels and I’ll never forget: He said, ‘We’ve gotta win this game for those yahoos back at home.’”

On an ABA fight that involved coaches (Kevin Loughery and Al Bianchi) and players (including Julius Erving and Doug Moe):

“One time we played the Virginia Squires at Queensborough Community College. Preseason game. It escalated. They started getting in fights. Started spitting at each other. A brawl, they started throwing chairs. And Kevin and Bianchi ran out there like they were [playing] in the '50s in the NBA, going after each other. We had 11 technicals in that game and managed to finish it. Other than the Malice at the Palace, that was the biggest brawl I’ve ever seen at a pro game.”

On hard luck just before and after entering the NBA:

“We signed Tiny [Archibald] to complement Julius [Erving]. It was the ‘Dr. J and Tiny A Show.’ That was the [slogan] of the season. All of a sudden Julius gets sold. We come to the first national TV game of the season against Philadelphia; Tiny breaks his ankle. He’s out for the year. And now the ‘Dr. J and Tiny A Show’ became the ‘Super John and Larry Kenon Show.’”

On the unshakable confidence of “Super John” Williamson, whose 16 fourth-quarter points propelled the Nets to the final ABA title in 1976:

“He gave himself the nickname ‘Super John.’ When he was a rookie, Kevin [Loughery] signed him. He was an undrafted player out of New Mexico State. He bumped into Kevin at an airport and he told Kevin, ‘Sign me.’ We lost the first four games or so, and he went up to Kevin and he said, ‘Start me.’ And he did, and we started winning. He believed he was the best.”

On one of the negatives to playing games at Rutgers University from 1977-81:

“A lot of guys would get picked up on speeding tickets because the police were waiting because nobody else used those roads at night. They knew most people going were either coming or going from the ballgames.”

On the myriad and bizarre promotions he’s seen through the years:

“They were having a night at Rutgers for Rich Kelley [a 7-foot center]. And they made big growth charts: a full-size picture of Rich Kelley. The day they made the growth chart to give out, Rich Kelley got traded. We had a Frisbee promotion, where they gave Frisbees to people before the game. They were coming out of the stands. We had a giant pierogi night there. They had about a 50-foot pierogi on the floor. There were some very interesting things. At Nassau Coliseum, they gave out the promotional red, white and blue ABA basketballs one night. A nice touch for kids. Again, they gave them out before the game. They were all over the floor.”

On getting called out by a coach:

“There was one night, Lawrence Frank was coaching us, and I’d just been inducted into the New York City Basketball Hall of Fame in 2004. We were on the ride home from the game and Lawrence is on the radio and Jason [Kidd] might have had 27 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists. On the radio [Frank] goes, ‘I don’t understand. If Herb Turetzky’s such a Hall of Fame scorekeeper, how come he couldn’t find another assist for Jason to get another triple-double tonight.’ I was embarrassed, but it was funny.”

On watching Shaquille O'Neal rip down a basket with his son David, then a ball boy, close by:

“He was sitting on the stanchion, to the right of the basket. When the stanchion started coming down, you see the pictures in the newspapers, you see David’s feet. Reebok put out an ad for the sneaker stores the following season showing that happening and you can see David right there in the picture. When that ad came out in the sneaker stores, I got a copy of it. Shaq autographed it, ‘Dave, stay away from the basket.’”

On the back-to-back NBA Finals teams in 2002 and 2003:

"It was electric. You had a team of deer running down the floor.”

On his wife, Jane, taking one for the team during a preseason game at Nassau Coliseum:

“We’re playing the Knicks. Jane was sitting right behind the bench in the front row. I’m sitting in center court. The ball goes loose, flying over the way LeBron [James] went into the fifth row the other night. Jim Chones [the team’s first-round pick at the time, in 1972-73] chased the ball and jumped over the Knicks’ bench, crashed into Jane, knocked her out cold. I’m sitting courtside. I look over to my left, and I see her down on the floor. We got a ballgame; I couldn’t leave. The ball was inbounded and we had to keep going.”

Jane Turetzky was revived and turned out to be OK that night.

“I have a love affair with him and he has the love affair with the game,” she said.

If the Nets force a Game 6 against Miami, Turetzky will be in his seat again, working his 1,269th straight game.

Jake Appleman is the author of “Brooklyn Bounce: The Highs and Lows of Nets Basketball's Historic First Season in the Borough.”

Getting gas with the Big Ticket

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22
3:12
PM ET
Serrano By Shea Serrano
ESPN.com
Archive
Writer and illustrator Shea Serrano and his collaborator, Sean Mack, put their spin on the NBA.

KG Cartoon 2Shea Serrano and Sean Mack
Previously: Heat check-out line »   Also see: Shopping with the Big Ticket »

Trash talk

April, 21, 2014
Apr 21
5:50
PM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
Archive
Is it OK for a GM to publicly curse about the other team? Or is it just plain fun? Amin Elhassan examines the war of words between the Raptors and Nets.

Weird, wild stuff

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
10:42
AM ET
By Devin Kharpertian
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
Jason Kidd, Deron WilliamsAP Photo/Bill KostrounThe Nets sketched a high-priced blueprint for success. But they didn't get good until things got weird.
The Nets sit right in the middle of Brooklyn’s tangled identities. They play in Barclays Center, an arena plopped in the middle of downtown Brooklyn and built within the last decade. Look north of Barclays Center and you’ll see a smattering of the borough’s few skyscrapers and luxury high-rises; walk two blocks south and you’ll be smack-dab in traditional brownstone country, where original and transplanted locals alike fuel the borough’s neighborhood vibe.

“We’re In,” the Brooklyn Nets’ preseason slogan boasted, affirming the team was both all-in on its quest to win a championship and in Brooklyn for good. Now, the playoff slogan is “For Brooklyn,” demonstrating the team’s “pride” in its home borough, and the Nets' desire to win for their city. It’s a tough sell, since the team still practices and has its primary offices in New Jersey, and not one player on the roster actually lives in Brooklyn.

Nevertheless, the team assured us that Brooklyn meant “uncompromising confidence.” On the heels of last season’s first-round playoff loss when the team openly bemoaned a lack of “toughness,” the Nets traded for Hall of Famers Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. They had five All-Stars and future Hall of Famers in a strict, positional lineup flush with veterans. They assembled an all-star cast of assistant coaches, led by Lawrence Frank, to sell Jason Kidd as a head coach.

But Brooklyn is at its best when it’s not a city, and the Nets are a brand that’s best when they’re not a brand. In a down-and-up season, things worked out best for Brooklyn when the Nets bucked convention and went quirky, chipped away at their shiny, new shield and got weird.

When All-Star center Brook Lopez went down for the season with a right foot injury, Kidd ultimately chose 6-foot-7 point guard Shaun Livingston to replace him, playing two point guards and pushing career small forward Pierce to power forward. The change put a backup on a minimum salary in a rare spotlight, pushed a Hall of Famer with 15 years at one position to a brand new role and turned the Nets into a versatile “long-ball” team, firing 3-pointers at a higher clip and forcing more turnovers than any team in the league.

This season, the Nets went 10-21 in 2013 and 34-17 in 2014, losing only four of their past five games as Livingston sat with a toe injury. It seems crazy that the team played its best after losing its best player, but that’s exactly what happened when the Nets adapted.

On a bench praised for veteran presence, it was rookie Mason Plumlee, who was supposed to spend the season in the D-League, who made the most waves, earning a rotation spot over veterans Andray Blatche and Reggie Evans. The 24-year-old even started 19 games when Garnett went down with a back injury.

The Nets buried and eventually traded Evans, a reckless rebounder who started a career-high 56 games and all seven playoff games under P.J. Carlesimo last season. They subsequently became one of the league’s worst rebounding teams ... and kept winning games nonetheless. Blatche, who played a key role in the Nets’ first-round series against the Chicago Bulls last season and was the team’s no-doubt first big man off the bench, may not even have a role in this year’s playoffs.

[+] EnlargePaul Pierce
AP Photo/Jason DeCrowPaul Pierce, stretch-4! A nontraditional lineup in the new year dug the Nets out of an early-season hole.
The Nets played their best offense with the energetic Plumlee throwing down alley-oops, scoring 113.7 points per 100 possessions in the 284 minutes he played with the other four starters. The rookie provided perhaps the highlight of the season, denying four-time MVP LeBron James at the rim on a potential game-winning dunk in Miami to help the Nets complete their season sweep of the two-time NBA champions. Plumlee, the 22nd overall pick in last year’s draft, leads qualifying NBA rookies in player efficiency rating (PER) and has started more games than any other rookie on a playoff team.

No one on the team came to eccentricity more naturally than Kidd, the rookie coach learning on the job. He made his first splash on the court in the rare literal sense, commanding second-year guard Tyshawn Taylor to “hit me,” which knocked his drink to the floor and gave the Nets a bonus timeout. He coldly dismissed Frank after one too many disputes, deciding he didn’t need the planned route to build a winning team. He stopped wearing ties. He stopped shaving. He stopped trying to prove he deserved a spot as an NBA coach, using blasé clichés as passive weapons in news conferences. He won two Eastern Conference Coach of the Month awards in the last four months thanks to his team’s newfound energy and two-way punch. All because things didn’t go as planned.

The Nets have undergone the most successful reimagining of a sports franchise ever in two seasons, evolving from the afterthought laughingstock of the Eastern Conference to a lavish “brand,” an unflappable cultural cachet that goes beyond the court and infiltrates music, fashion and business. They’re a symbol of Brooklyn’s Manhattanization, with a record-breaking $190 million spending spree to fill their roster and enough sponsors to fill every second of their home games, while still taking time to honor Brooklyn’s history and heroes.

They sold themselves on their hype, on the promise of greatness because of their giants. Except the Nets, in typical Brooklyn weirdness, were at their best only after outside circumstances knocked them out of their failing made-for-TV box and forced them to explore unconventional, creative solutions.

Devin Kharpertian is the managing editor and founding partner at The Brooklyn Game. Follow him, @uuords.

Better off Brook-less?

April, 15, 2014
Apr 15
10:34
AM ET
Mason By Beckley Mason
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
Brook LopezNed Dishman/Getty ImagesBrook Lopez may be the Nets' best player. The Nets may also be better off without him.
Despite going 33-15 since Jan. 1, the Brooklyn Nets will end the 2013-14 season with a worse record than they had last season. Still, these Nets were a success. If this season’s team couldn't fully overcome a disastrous 10-21 start, it did accomplish something more meaningful than a higher seed: It found an identity.

Last season, the Nets were numbingly predictable. They routinely beat up on bad teams and faltered against tough competition. It wasn’t a question of character -- they played hard. For all of their veteran players, the Nets didn’t play like a clever, cagey team. Against the Chicago Bulls in the first round of the playoffs, they were undone not by their willingness to battle on the boards with Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson, but by their inability to contain Marco Belinelli in the side pick-and-roll.

It wasn’t just the X’s and O’s. Last January, Howard Beck, then with The New York Times, wondered: “Who defines the Nets? Who is their driving force, their conscience, their soul?” In that same article, Beck referenced Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett as players who offer their team definition. They stand for something, whether it’s Pierce’s pump-up-the-crowd bravado or Garnett’s manic intensity.

Now that Garnett and Pierce have joined the franchise, it’s hard not to notice the changed vibe in the Nets’ locker room. Before Deron Williams emerges from the showers, Pierce holds court, lobbing trash talk across the room at teammates, endearing himself to local media and fans with ready wit and a gravelly voice.

Garnett is something of a basketball mystic. In October he explained to reporters the benefits of a diversely talented team: “How you would write a story is different from how you would write a story or how this lady would write a story. You might be able to chug a gallon of milk quicker than she can. I don’t know. We all have our strengths, is the point I’m making.”

Brash, quirky and serious all at once. It’s that sort of vibe that connects the Nets with their fan base, as does a two-month home winning streak.

On the court, this comes through in the team’s unorthodox playing style: with a switching, reaching, deflecting defense (the Nets force turnovers more frequently than any team but the Heat and Wizards) and an offense that moves the ball and fires away from deep (the Nets have increased their 3-point attempts every month except one).

It’s that upward trend in 3-pointers and wins that reminds us of the elephant in the walking boot at the end of the bench. It’s working now, but the reality is this team wasn’t built with Pierce’s special brand of funky, stretch-4 hoops in mind. It was built for Brook Lopez, the best low-post scorer in the NBA.

Listed at 7 feet, 275 pounds, Lopez is a mammoth who almost always demands a double-team from 12 feet and in. Before he went down for the season with yet another foot injury, he had a 25.5 PER (which would rank seventh-best in the NBA) and career numbers in every meaningful offensive category. And at 26 years old, he’s still getting better.

But after breaking his right foot twice and missing 185 games in the past three seasons, it’s impossible not be skeptical about Lopez’s future with the Nets, especially with two more years and about $33 million left on his contract.

He was immensely valuable to last season’s squad, but removing Lopez from the equation this season clarified everything. Lopez is not a role player; he needs to ball to make a real impact. Even when he was playing well, catering to Lopez put players like Pierce in unfamiliar roles. All of Lopez's touches have been distributed among Nets shooters, while their big guards (Joe Johnson, Shaun Livingston and Williams) take turns attacking mismatches on the low block Lopez used to occupy.

[+] EnlargePaul Pierce
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty ImagesSince Lopez's injury, the Nets have embraced the bravado brought by Paul Pierce and others.
Lopez’s injury also made way for Mason Plumlee. The rookie forward is the type of high-flying, tip-dunking, LeBron-blocking big man that perfectly complements the Nets’ switching defense. To get the most out of Lopez, a team must slow it down and really grind out games through the post. Plumlee is simply a better fit for how the Nets are playing now on both ends.

Things are going well, but the question persists, even on the horizon of another likely first-round series with the Bulls: How long can the Nets pursue their current strategy?

Their opponent on Tuesday, the New York Knicks, know what a delicate brew good NBA chemistry can be. Last summer they lost Jason Kidd to retirement and replaced Chris Copeland and Steve Novak with lesser shooters who have hardly played in the second half of the season. After winning 54 games and the East’s No. 2 seed last season, the Knicks this year will watch the first round from home.

There are no guarantees that Brooklyn’s current run of strong play will continue, with or without Lopez. The Nets aren’t exactly spilling over with young talent. Pierce and Garnett will be out of the league well before Lopez turns 30. Livingston’s injury struggles are well-documented, and Andrei Kirilenko hasn’t played 70 games since 2008.

The Nets could consider moving Lopez to upgrade their talent on the wings or improve long-term roster flexibility. Would post game-centric Denver be willing to trade Danilo Gallinari and a pick for a premier post presence? Would a couple of first-round picks get it done? The Nets have only one of those in the next three drafts.

When the Nets went “all in” by bringing in high-priced aging talent, the assumption was that Pierce & Co. were a luxury, but worth it. Overpriced, sure, but they would be a vital upgrade. Instead, they’ve contributed to a philosophical overhaul. In more ways than one, the Nets got more than they bargained for.

Shopping with the Big Ticket

April, 2, 2014
Apr 2
3:26
PM ET
Serrano By Shea Serrano
ESPN.com
Archive
Writer and illustrator Shea Serrano and his collaborator, Sean Mack, put their spin on the NBA.

KG CartoonShea Serrano and Sean Mack for ESPN
Previously: Solve this puzzle, Sixers »

Hello Brooklyn? Are you there yet?

April, 2, 2014
Apr 2
11:32
AM ET
By Jake Appleman
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
Deron WilliamsElsa/Getty ImagesThe Nets finally have a team worth watching, but is anybody in Brooklyn seeing beyond the brand?
Tucked into one of the far corners of the Nets' lifestyle store on the concourse at Barclays Center is a rack of misplaced basketball uniforms: white Jason Kidd home jerseys from the team's New Jersey days. Surrounded by as many sartorial options as you can imagine being associated with one NBA franchise, the Kidd jersey, already marketed as vintage, calls back to a time when the Nets were little more than an unpopular basketball team with a beautiful fast break.

Now it’s hard to know what qualifies as the Nets. Brooklyn is still the chant. Brooklyn is still the buzz word, still the brand. When the home team obtains possession at Barclays Center, it is noted emphatically that it is “Brooklyn’s ball!” Brooklyn is told to stand up before the fourth quarter. Brooklyn is asked where it is at during timeouts.

Such localized promotion made sense in the franchise’s first season in the borough. The Nets’ roster was an overpriced collection of relatively anonymous personalities, which allowed for Brooklyn to become the overriding theme. In year two, the peddling of the Brooklyn brand has advanced beyond necessarily being bound by basketball.

[+] EnlargePaul Pierce
AP Photo/Kathy KmonicekWith wins in 20 of their past 22 home games, the Nets are giving fans something to cheer about.
“People don’t have to be a fan of what happens on the court, but guess what: They wear our hats, they wear our jerseys,” Elisa Padilla, the Nets' senior vice president of marketing said. “We’re a lifestyle brand. We’re cool. We’re hip.”

This is strange thing to hear in late March, with Brooklyn’s team having won 14 straight games in front of the paying customers at Barclays Center. There are few cooler outcomes than having the best record in the Eastern Conference in 2014 (30-12 as of Monday), or responding to a lump-of-coal performance on Christmas Day by winning 21 of 23 at home.

The on-court product isn't without its flair, either. Funky, smaller lineups add entertainment value, mismatches wreak havoc and the Nets launch 3-pointer after 3-pointer with enjoyable nonchalance. In the locker room, there aren't many things funnier than Kevin Garnett calling Joe Johnson “Joe Jesus” after another late-game rescue job, or Garnett lustily talking about his jump shot like a booty call.

“I want it to be that when I dial it up, I want her to pick the phone up,” Garnett said after rediscovering his midrange game in a win over Golden State in January. “Tonight, I dialed and she was right there, answering like she’s supposed to.”

It doesn't get much better than Paul Pierce's noting that he’s been clutch since he was 2 years old or joking about shopping for mojo at Costco. Andray Blatche even dubbed himself “Young Seymour” because he wants you to "see more" of him.

The resurgence of Shaun Livingston and relatively seamless integration of Jason Collins are two examples of rare stories ingrained in the Nets' turnaround. Not many teams can lose arguably their best player to a season-ending injury and become, almost overnight, better and much more interesting.

From consistently blown out early in the season to dominant home team -- with a slew of lineup changes in between -- it seems at times like the only immovable aspect of the Nets is the Brooklyn branding. This is odd to observe because the way the Nets have won lately might have a dulling effect on the intrigue generated by their style of play and fun sound bites. Shooting the lights out early in games has inhibited the type of overall noise, rooted in momentum swings, that can energize a building. With their play practically encouraging fair-weather fans to check out merchandise on the concourse, the Nets haven’t trailed in the second half of 11 of their 14 straight home wins.

But these specifics are finite within the construct of a sport, a team and its evolving narratives. If any of the aforementioned storylines don't interest you -- and even if they do, really -- the Nets' marketing team would like you to latch on to a vague conceptual cool, in part because marketing the Nets is harder than marketing Brooklyn. Brooklyn has been told to stand up for decades now, and the consistent response, at concerts and in board meetings, has been vertical and affirmative.

The Nets’ play will unpredictably ebb and flow, and the basketball brand has less historical cache than the endlessly romanticized borough. To see it as something of a futuristic pie chart, a basketball team can’t always sell consumers (present and future) a positive reflection of themselves in the way that a nice hat can, even if basketball itself is one of the most historically organic things about the place that has been transformed into a brand.

That brand likely means something different to each Net, none of whom live in Brooklyn because the team’s practice facility remains in East Rutherford, N.J. Players readily accept the work identity, and team executives passionately note that there shouldn't be much different about the perception between some of the Knicks commuting into Manhattan from the suburbs and the Jets trekking out to the Meadowlands from Long Island. Except that the Knicks sell the Knicks and the Jets sell the Jets. These Nets commute from New Jersey or lower Manhattan into a still-developing alternate reality, one with a circular space-age scoreboard and enormous slices of cheesecake frequently taking center stage.

[+] EnlargeBrook Lopez
AP Photo/Seth WenigThe Nets were 12-4 in March without Brook Lopez, but the merch is still front and center in Brooklyn.
A New Jersey native who still lives in the Garden State, Padilla can relate, but she doesn't mind the dichotomy.

“The geographic location is neither here nor there for me,” she said. “I’m a true marketer.”

Despite internal discussions of pushing more Nets-branded merchandise in the future in place of borough-based swag, Brooklyn appears to remain the driving force of the brand for the foreseeable future. Padilla repeatedly noted that the Brooklyn brand is in its “infancy stage,” (part of a five-year plan hatched upon arrival), and that Brooklyn is the first priority from a marketing perspective, something to be grown no matter what happens on the court. The Nets’ playoff slogan per a press release sent out on Monday? "For Brooklyn."

“We’re still saying hello to people,” she said.

It would just be a shame, then, if the Nets’ 2014 on-court success, at times lost behind the ambiguity of a black-and-white promotional curtain and a cynical big-city news cycle, said goodbye before reaching the maximum number of basketball-inclined consumers.

Jake Appleman is the author of Brooklyn Bounce: The Highs and Lows of Nets Basketball's Historic First Season in the Borough.

Openly gay player not so distracting

March, 21, 2014
Mar 21
9:35
AM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Jason Collins
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images
In Brooklyn, Jason Collins is making history evidently without harming the team.


NBA front office people, even the ones who swore they were socially progressive, fretted -- in various unattributed conversations -- that if they signed an openly gay player like Jason Collins it might be good for humanity, but bad for the team.

Why? Because the issue of the gayness would be a distraction.

The real-life research into that assertion is underway in Brooklyn, and the early returns are that there was never anything real to worry about.

Stefan Bondy reports in the New York Daily News that -- while Collins has endured the taunts of one unnamed opposing team "knuckelhead," (in Collins' words)-- it's tough to make the case Collins' public sexuality has harmed the Nets in any way.

Still a fringe rotation player whose main job is delivering fouls, Collins’ No. 98 jersey became the top seller on NBA.com, even as the media attention has died down to the point that he’ll leave a practice or locker room without an interview request.

Perhaps more than anything, the blending in will be the lasting legacy of Collins’ trailblazing stint which was put off until after the All-Star break, in part because of fears around the league that he’d be a distraction.

The Nets (35-31) certainly don’t seem distracted. They’re 10-3 since signing Collins, winners of 10 straight at Barclays Center ahead of Friday's game there against the Celtics.

“Not just for myself, but I think for everyone. This shows that ‘distraction’ is B.S. That it’s about the team, it’s about the sport,” said Collins, who signed for the rest of the season last week. “I hope this shows all players that you can still have your life off the court and not have to hide anything. And still have your life on the court or on the field or on the ice, I guess, in hockey. That’s a credit to my teammates and the entire Nets organization from ownership to coaching to teammates to everyone.”

The Truth about it

March, 12, 2014
Mar 12
2:38
AM ET
Haberstroh By Tom Haberstroh
ESPN.com
Archive
How have the Brooklyn Nets turned a Brook Lopez injury into the East's best record since January 1? Tom Haberstroh points to the power of Paul Pierce.

Collins' extraordinary day, ordinary game

February, 24, 2014
Feb 24
1:30
AM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive

Not 10 seconds into Jason Collins’ pregame news conference inside Staples Center, it was clear he was distinctly uninterested in answering questions about the historic and cultural import of the night. Collins had spent a good part of the day playing catch-up with the Brooklyn Nets’ coverage schemes and play calls, and the self-portrait he sketched sitting behind the low table inside the visitor’s hockey locker room was of a guy on a 10-day contract, and little more.

Collins made mention of his quality of life since he came out publicly last April -- Life is so much better for me -- but for the better part of 10 minutes, Collins spoke in largely clinical terms about learning the Nets’ playbook and his conditioning. He’s well aware that his game subsists on a diet of sturdy screens, pick-and-roll defense, guarding the post and issuing fouls as necessary. That’s stuff that requires mastery and 12 hours isn’t a lot of time to process.
[+] EnlargeJason Collins
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty ImagesKeeping Chris Kaman off the boards? All is back to normal in one sense for Jason Collins.

On the surface, Collins’ reluctance to acknowledge the symbolism of the evening seemed not so much disingenuous as a little distorted. But the thing you have to appreciate is that most well-adjusted gay people rarely think about their sexual identity in the confines of their job. Collins understood from the outset that the best way to service the cause was to play quality minutes as a backup big. He wants to prove that the NBA’s first openly gay player is on the court because he still has something left to contribute.

Collins’ pregame message turned out to be prophetic, because when he took the floor with 10:28 remaining in the second quarter, it was all about the basketball.

It was difficult to handicap going in how the Staples Center would react when Collins checked in. The Lakers crowd is composed of a lot of westside money and show biz pros, among the bluest voting audiences in the NBA. These are image-conscious people and it was easy to imagine that they’d shower a hometown guy who’d broken a barrier with a rousing standing ovation.

But those who wanted a sentimental, politically satisfying Aaron Sorkin screenplay instead got a grainy Frederick Wiseman documentary utterly devoid of drama. There was a smattering of supportive applause and a few standers, but many couldn’t be bothered to look up from their phones.

Collins then went to work and it was vintage unvarnished Collins. Nets coach Jason Kidd wanted a backup center who talked on defense, and that’s what Collins proceeded to do, calling out directions from the back line like a veteran big man. He fouled like crazy -- five in 11 minutes of court time. On the offensive end, he appeared rusty and his timing was off. He missed his only shot and fumbled a pass from Deron Williams while rolling to the bucket.

On the positive side of the ledger, Collins also plastered defenders with screens. After the game, he recounted with a broad smile his favorite moment of the night -- witnessing Lakers point guard Jordan Farmar kvetch to the officials that Collins was setting moving picks. For guys like Collins who perform janitorial duties, this is among the highest compliments.

How did it feel for Collins? It felt like I’ve done this thousands of times before. This doesn’t discount an enormous milestone for one of the last realms of American life where a gay man has to think twice about being himself. But if it seemed prosaic, that’s because it was.

And this is how we make sense of it: The context of Collins’ appearance tonight was a huge deal, even if the event wasn’t.

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