The Brooklyn Nets have navigated a treacherous 2023-24 NBA season. After a solid 6-6 start to the year, Brooklyn gradually slid down the Eastern Conference standings and ultimately failed to make the NBA Playoffs. Former Head Coach Jacque Vaughn, Ben Simmons, and Mikal Bridges played roles in the Nets' disappointing season, but some things during the year's tenure were encouraging.

Jacque Vaughn started the season as Brooklyn's leader after an impressive stretch in 2022-23. Vaughn earned the Head Coach title after the Nets parted ways with Steve Nash and made an immediate impact. Brooklyn went on an 18-2 midseason run with Kevin Durant and Kyrie as the team's stars.

Things looked bright in Brooklyn with Vaughn at the helm, but he had a bigger challenge when the stars left. Ultimately, Vaughn's efforts in 2023-24 ran dry when the Nets failed to stay above the .500 mark. One primary criticism of his coaching tenure was that the Nets lacked a pecking order on offense.

This combined with him inconsistently playing Cam Thomas led to questions of his competency. As a result, he and Brooklyn parted ways in March of 2024.

The Nets needed more from Jacque Vaughn to reach their full potential. Still, his contributions over the years were vital and will be appreciated by fans and the front office for years to come.

Now, onto the first player in question.

1. Ben Simmons: Brooklyn's absent difference-maker

Nets' Ben Simmons sits at bench, Jacque Vaughn in background

Before the 2023-24 season's start, analysts believed the Nets would be as good as Ben Simmons propelled them to be. He came off a subpar year with 6.9 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 6.1 assists averages. Thus, he was hungry to make a big jump. Most importantly, Simmons was finally healthy after being shut down with a serious back injury the previous year.

The former All-Star and All-Defensive selection started the year strong. He was a force in transition, a seamless playmaker, and a hounding defensive player. However, his scoring left much to be desired. Simmons' points per game average never reached the double digits in 2023-24.

To make matters worse, his injury problems flared back up. Simmons played in six of the Nets' first seven games before missing 38 due to a recurring back issue. He briefly returned in January and February but could not stay on the court.

On March 7, Brooklyn shut Simmons down for the rest of the season with a lower back nerve impingement, strikingly similar to what he experienced in 2022-23. In the end, Simmons only appeared in 15 games in 2023-24 and averaged 6.1 points, 7.9 assists, and 5.7 assists.

The former 2016 first-overall pick struggled to stay healthy, which hurt Brooklyn on both sides of the ball. Despite his letdown showing, Simmons is not done making efforts to help his team. He revealed an optimistic mindset while rehabbing in late February.

“The storm doesn't last forever. I'm going to get back to where I was. Staying on it. Each day is a day to get better,” Simmons said after the Nets' 123-103 win against the San Antonio Spurs.

Nets fans can look forward to a revamped Ben Simmons in 2024-25 as he gives things another go-around. Speaking of go-arounds, Mikal Bridges is a key player who looks to get better after a solid, but somewhat underwhelming year.

2. Mikal Bridges is great but still has work to do

Mikal Bridges warms up before Knicks game

Mikal Bridges entered the 2023-24 season as the top dog for the Nets. The NBA Ironman built a reputation for himself that demanded great service as a leader on offense and defense. Bridges averaged a whopping 26.1 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 1.0 steals in 27 games with Brooklyn after he was traded from the Phoenix Suns in 2023.

He could not quite maintain the scoring mark from his initial stint, as he hovered near 20 points per game throughout 2023-24. In addition, Bridges' defense was not at the level many expected it to be. The 27-year-old was a runner-up for the 2021-22 NBA Defensive Player of the Year award and made the All-Defensive 1st team. Yet, he did not make a defensive team in 2022-23 and likely will not in 2023-24 either.

Of course, the main reason his defense has dropped is due to his significantly higher load on offense. Regardless, Brooklyn needs Bridges to be his best self on both sides of the ball for the team to go far.

Bridges' relentless work ethic will not allow him to be satisfied with how the year went. He will take what he learned from the season and return stronger in 2024-25.

All in all, the 2023-24 season did not go as planned for the Nets, but there is hope for an improved showing in the future. It will be interesting to see who the team's head coach will be after the departure of Jacque Vaughn and Kevin Ollie's mixed-bag showing. Mikal Bridges put things best in a review of the year and an outlook on the next season:

“On behalf of my teammates and the Nets organization, we appreciate [the fans] coming out this year. I know it's been a tough year, but we appreciate you guys hanging on with us,” Bridges said. “We'll be back next year.”

The Nets indeed look to be back and better in 2024-25.