Regardless of what the eye test said about the Nets prior to the All-Star break, the first 53 games were not nearly as bleak as perceived.
Despite down numbers from Deron Williams, Kris Humphries, and Gerald Wallace, a trio comprising $41.6 million in 2012-13, the Nets are 31-22 and fighting for an Atlantic Division title. They rank fourth in the Eastern Conference heading into a home-and-home with the Milwaukee Bucks beginning Tuesday night in the Barclays Center.
And fourth place comes with locker-room turmoil, blown leads, and a displaced head coach.
While the Nets are certainly not the 2010-11 Miami Heat in terms of talent, they do share several similarities. Every loss became overanalyzed and every performance critiqued. Head coach Erik Spoelstra was seemingly headed out the door on multiple occasions. They finished the regular season 58-24, good for second place in the Eastern Conference.
Losing in the Finals made for great schadenfreude, but one season did not make a decade. They won a title the following year. Miami is the frontrunner again this season.
So the sky is not falling for Brooklyn, even though the team played better before the break without Williams. The Nets are simply 2.5 games out of second place.
Even with multiple double-digit blown leads, the Nets have tallied two wins apiece over the New York Knicks, Boston Celtics, and Indiana Pacers. They opened the new year with a rare blowout win over the Oklahoma City Thunder and headed into the All-Star break with a convincing win over the Denver Nuggets.
The Nets have clearly taken leaps and bounds as a franchise, and they really only added Joe Johnson to last year’s roster. Brook Lopez’s health has clearly been the difference, as the center became the first Net in the franchise’s Brooklyn history to earn a trip to the All-Star Game.
For the first time in quite some time, Thursday’s trade deadline has the chance to improve the Nets this season. During the Nets’ last three seasons in Newark, draft lottery jockeying was the biggest factor in the final 25-plus games.
Although the Nets don’t boast significant assets, Kris Humphries’ two-year deal could entice a team to move an expiring contract. MarShon Brooks and a draft pick could emerge as the pieces necessary to facilitate a deal.
Billy King has engaged in talks for Atlanta’s Josh Smith and Utah’s Paul Millsap, but everything is on the table. When King acquired Williams from the Jazz, the move came under the radar.
The same could hold true in the coming days with the Nets looking to improve their roster for a playoff push.