Arrivals of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving immediately alter Nets' aspirations
A new, star-studded era has arrived at Barclays Center
After a chaotic and exciting start to NBA free agency, the Nets are this summer's biggest winners. Armed with two max salary slots, Brooklyn signed two of the league's biggest stars in Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, fulfilling all the rumors that indicated the Nets were serious players for the best free agents.
Also adding veteran big man DeAndre Jordan, Brooklyn has launched itself into the top tier of the NBA and should be ready to fight for Eastern Conference supremacy even as Durant works his way back from a ruptured Achilles tendon.
For a team that just reached the postseason for the first time in four years, that's quite the rise in fortunes. How did the Nets get here? And, more importantly, what does this mean for Brooklyn's future?
How did the Nets pull off this free agency haul?
Rumors of a potential Durant-Irving super team had been floating around the league since the All-Star break, with the Knicks viewed as the likely landing spot.
At least those rumors got the city right.
Durant and Irving arrive in Brooklyn to a franchise with impressive front office and organizational stability. GM Sean Marks has built a stellar squad since taking over in 2016, turning a struggling franchise into a star-studded powerhouse in the short span of three years. Head coach Kenny Atkinson has undoubtedly been a bright spot as well.
Marks and Atkinson have created a widely praised culture in Brooklyn, and that clearly sold Durant and Irving to jilt the Knicks and join the better-run city rival across the East River. That and a young squad brimming with players who should only keep improving in Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen and Spencer Dinwiddie.
In making shrewd roster decisions and creating enough cap space for two stars, the Nets stole a march on their rivals - and the rest of the league - in landing two of the biggest prizes in free agency.
What happens now?
Unfortunately for the Nets, Durant will face some time on the sidelines, and fans won't see him until he returns late next season or at the start of the following campaign. Irving, though, will get a second crack at leading a young squad to prominence following a tumultuous season in Boston.
Irving is 27, in the prime of his career and coming off a season in which he averaged 23.8 points, 6.9 assists and 5.0 rebounds per game. He'll take the mantle from D'Angelo Russell as offensive playmaker and ballhandler. Irving's talent is undeniable, but the main question will be how he can mesh with the young, up-and-coming Nets roster, especially on the offensive end.
Even without Durant, Brooklyn has reason to be excited about how its younger players will continue to grow. LeVert showed flashes of star potential to start the season and in the playoffs despite suffering a bad leg injury. Allen, Dinwiddie and Joe Harris also proved to be more than capable of taking on larger roles and playing big minutes on a competitive team.
The arrival of Taurean Prince, acquired via trade in July, could also prove significant. Underused in his three seasons in Atlanta and only 25 years of age, Prince brings needed depth on the wings and should add another three-point threat to the roster after shooting 39 percent from behind the arc last season.
Jordan, now 30 years old and on his fourth team, is not the All-Star he was merely two years ago with the Clippers but is still a nightly double-double machine. Along with Allen, the two big men should provide elite rim protection for Brooklyn.
The deciding factor, for next season at least, will still center around Irving and his ability to spearhead the offense. He's one of the big stars the franchise has committed to for the long-term, and while questions about his leadership remain, there aren't any doubts about his ability.
Either way, the Nets are the first team in Irving's career that he has chosen to play for. He was drafted by Cleveland and traded to Boston -- but he picked Brooklyn himself. The Nets won't be at full strength until Durant returns, but there is enough star power and potential to expect big improvements next season.
Speaking at a press conference Tuesday, Marks acknowledged Brooklyn's 24-hour shift from Cinderella playoff team to Eastern Conference powerhouse, saying, "the expectations, obviously they're growing." Irving and Durant both come with some risks yet having the opportunity to sign one franchise player doesn't come along often, let alone two in the same offseason.
It marks a sudden change in the Nets' methodical rebuild, but there's no denying the arrival of Brooklyn's two newest stars make the franchise the envy of most teams around the NBA.