For years, the New York Knicks had been the center of all things basketball in the Big Apple, and one of the most famous sports teams in the world. With multiple championships in the 1970s and Hall of Fame franchise icons such as Patrick Ewing in the ’90s, the Knicks ran Broadway.
That is, until now.
Having made a surprising playoff run during the 2018-19 season and following that up by signing two of the premier talents in the NBA, the Brooklyn Nets have supplanted the Knicks as the team to watch in New York.
The Nets were a team of intrigue at the beginning of the summer, having just made the playoffs while also possessing two max salary slots following a trade that offloaded Allen Crabbe’s $18.5 million salary.
Brooklyn immediately began to gain traction with former Boston Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving, who even left his longtime agent to join Roc Nation Sports. Shortly thereafter, Kevin Durant announced that he would also be heading to Brooklyn, pairing with Irving in what is sure to be one of the best tandems in the NBA.
After years of toiling as the “second team” in the tri-state area, the Nets signed two superstars while the Knicks essentially struck out. But while they can relish in their summer haul, the Nets still have their share of challenges heading into the 2019-20 season.
Durant is potentially out for the year as he recovers from a ruptured Achilles, and the rest of the roster will have to get acclimated with Irving as he replaces D’Angelo Russell at the point guard position.
With that in mind, here are three questions for the Brooklyn Nets after free agency.
3. Who will start at center?
Maybe this is a stupid question. After all, both Irving and Durant implored the Nets to create enough cap space to bring DeAndre Jordan to Brooklyn. Still, given the progression of Jarrett Allen, it is a valid question to ask.
Allen started all 80 games for the Nets last season, averaging 10.9 points and 8.4 rebounds while establishing himself as one of the best shot blockers in the league. Allen’s per-36 stat line of 15.0 points, 11.5 rebounds and 2.1 blocks would stack up with some of the best centers in basketball.
Ideally, the Nets would want to increase Allen’s playing time once again after he saw a big spike in his sophomore season. However, the arrival of Jordan complicates things.
While he is not quite the same athletic freak he was with the Los Angeles Clippers, Jordan is still a valuable player. He gobbles up offensive rebounds and provides an imposing presence in the paint while offering a decent option in pick-and-roll.
There is a slight possibility that head coach Kenny Atkinson deploys both Allen and Jordan at the same time. After all, they would be quite formidable.
Regardless of who is named the eventual starter, there is no question that both Allen and Jordan will see plenty of minutes at the 5 or even the 4, especially given that Durant will be out.
Speaking of the power forward spot…
2. Are they deep enough at the forward spot?
If Durant were healthy, this question would be irrelevant. But this Nets team still wants to make the playoffs, and there are some holes. Taurean Prince was a nice piece to gain as part of the Allen Crabbe salary dump, and Joe Harris is one of the best 3-point shooters in the game.
Still, they look pretty weak, especially at the four. Rodions Kurucs and Dzanan Musa would be undersized 4s and defensive liabilities. The Nets signed Henry Ellenson to a two-way contract, so the extent of his time with Brooklyn remains unclear. The team also let Rondae Hollis-Jefferson walk after he struggled with injury and inefficiency.
Nicolas Claxton–the team’s second-round draft pick this summer–might eventually win the job given his rebounding and shot-blocking abilities. In many ways, he would form a perfect partnership with either Jordan or Allen. But is he ready for that kind of responsibility as a rookie?
The Nets could–and still probably should–make a play for guys like Kenneth Faried or Thabo Sefolosha, who would add depth at positions of need while also fitting in with Brooklyn’s identity.
Otherwise, they run the risk of appearing thin in the frontcourt.
1. Is Irving a big upgrade over D-Lo?
In pursuing Kyrie Irving, the Nets essentially guaranteed that they would not be matching any offer sheets for D’Angelo Russell.
Despite Russell being named to his first All-Star team to the tune of 21.1 points, 7.0 assists and 3.9 rebounds per game, Brooklyn pounced at the chance to land Irving in free agency. Now, they will have to hope that Irving provides a sizable upgrade over D-Lo.
Chemistry is unlikely to be as much of an issue as it was with the Celtics. A number of Nets players were actively recruiting Kyrie to join the Nets, including Spencer Dinwiddie. But Irving is also more ball dominant than Russell was in Brooklyn, though he did show off-ball proficiency in Boston.
There is no question that Kyrie is one of the elite scoring point guards and playmakers in the game, but is he really that big of an upgrade over Russell? Given that Durant will not be on the floor, this season should be a good barometer for measuring Irving’s value in Brooklyn.