The 2017 offseason was the wildest in NBA history. LeBron James and Kyrie Irving are now Eastern Conference rivals. Out West, Chris Paul joined James Harden, while Paul George and Carmelo Anthony united with Russell Westbrook. Ten recent All–Stars changed uniforms, and we haven’t even gotten to Kevin Durant’s strange summer, so let’s get to previewing. The 2017-18 NBA season is finally upon us.
2016-17 finish: 20-62, worst in the NBA
• Offensive rating: 101.9 (28th)
• Defensive rating: 108.0 (23rd)
Did the summer help at all?
Given their years of suffering, the Nets are operating on a sliding scale here, but yes. For the first time since the 2012-13 season, just before they traded what amounted to four unprotected first-round picks to the Boston Celtics for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, Brooklyn should see their win total increase.
Russell and Crabbe provide immediate help. The former is just 21 years old, and we ranked him among the five best playmakers in our NBA 25 Under 25 series, mostly because he’s one of three players ever to average 19.6 points, six assists and 4.4 rebounds per 36 minutes before age 20. The other two: Kyrie Irving and LeBron James. And Russell should benefit from a change of scenery, with a chance to shine outside the spotlight of Los Angeles Lakers, playing for a coach focused solely on player development.
The Nets sought Crabbe’s services since last summer, when they offered him a four-year, $75 million deal. The Portland Trail Blazers matched that contract, only to send him to Brooklyn in a cost-cutting deal in July. Crabbe’s 44.4 percent 3-point shooting ranked second only to Kyle Korver last season, and Brooklyn is banking on coach Kenny Atkinson — an assistant on the Atlanta Hawks during Korver’s 2015 All-Star campaign — similarly supercharging another former second-round marksman this year.
Carroll hasn’t been the same since undergoing right knee surgery in January 2016, and his ten-figure contract became one of the league’s most cumbersome, so the Nets picked him up in a a salary dump, too. Year 2 is often when players return to form following knee surgery, and Carroll also benefited from Atkinson’s guidance in Atlanta. The hope is Carroll can become the 3-and-D weapon he once was, but he’s since surpassed his 30th birthday, so even optimistic projections should come with caution.
The Nets ranked fourth in 3-point attempts last season and fifth-worst in 3-point percentage, so a few more capable shooters should help push them into league-average range — no small feat in the NBA.
There’s no doubt the loss of Lopez hurts. As much grief as the former All-Star center got in Brooklyn, he gave the Nets 20 points a night, added a 3-point shot and single-handedly kept them in the few games they won last season. (They were 0-7 without him.) Mozgov and Zeller will help offset what little rebounding they’ll lose and some of Lopez’s scoring, but they aren’t nearly as versatile offensively.
Then, there’s Jarrett Allen, who the Nets nabbed with the No. 22 pick that they stole in return for dumping Bojan Bogdanovic’s expiring contract on the Washington Wizards. The 6-foot-11 teenager developed into a productive player as a University of Texas freshman, but he’s got a long way to go, and we shouldn’t expect much from a guy who missed all of summer league due to a hip injury.
Add it all up and combine that with an Eastern Conference largely depleted of top-end talent, and the Nets should be good for a handful more wins. Whether the moves they made this summer will benefit the bottom line beyond this season is a different story, since they committed an additional $92 million (before Russell’s restricted free agency price tag) to their salary cap in 2018-19 and 2019-20.
Best-case scenario: Jeremy Lin stays healthy, Russell and Crabbe find consistency, and the Nets suddenly have a legit NBA backcourt. Carroll and Mozgov enjoy bounce-back seasons. One or both of former first-round picks Caris LeVert and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson emerge. Allen is a revelation. And the Nets are competitive. It’s too much to ask the Nets to live up to Lin’s playoff guarantee, even though a sub-.500 record in the East gets them in the door, but it’s all about baby steps in Brooklyn.
If everything falls apart: It can’t get much worse. The worst-case scenario is zero improvement from the 25-and-under crowd of Russell, Crabbe, LeVert, Hollis-Jefferson and Allen. The Nets can’t afford to lose what little hope they have. Oh, and while they bid adieu to their 2018 first-round pick long ago, it’d be a real kick in the you-know-whats to see their lottery numbers come up No. 1 again. That pick now belongs to the Cleveland Cavaliers and could end up haunting Brooklyn for another decade.
Best guess at a record: 26-56
Read all of Ball Don’t Lie’s 2017-18 NBA Season Previews:
Atlanta Hawks • Boston Celtics • Brooklyn Nets • Charlotte Hornets • Chicago Bulls • Cleveland Cavaliers • Detroit Pistons • Indiana Pacers • Miami Heat • Milwaukee Bucks • New York Knicks • Orlando Magic • Philadelphia 76ers • Toronto Raptors • Washington Wizards
Dallas Mavericks • Denver Nuggets • Golden State Warriors • Houston Rockets • Los Angeles Clippers • Los Angeles Lakers • Memphis Grizzlies • Minnesota Timberwolves • New Orleans Pelicans • Oklahoma City Thunder • Phoenix Suns • Portland Trail Blazers • Sacramento Kings • San Antonio Spurs • Utah Jazz
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