Let’s bring you back to the 2016 NBA season, where the Cleveland Cavaliers came back from 3-1 lead against the Golden State Warriors, and look at the bottom of the standings. Both the Knicks and Nets were last in those standings. Both of these teams seemed in a dead-end place, with bad hands dealt and owners who did not care for them. This has seemingly changed, where the Nets a championship contenders and the Knicks seem like a team on the rise. Both have coaches with something to prove, with Steve Nash a rookie coach and Tom Thibodeau to prove that his tenure with the Bulls was not a flash in the pan. How did these teams get from bottom of the standings with no hope in sight, to believable futures ahead?
The Brooklyn Nets
The Nets were still dealing with the aftershocks of the trade with the Celtics, who had just drafted Jayson Tatum with the 3rd pick in the draft. The Nets’ 2014, 2016, 2017, and 2018 draft picks all went to the Boston Celtics. This all changed when the Nets hired GM Sean Marks. Sean Marks was a part of a group that included Sixers former GM Bryan Colangelo, who was involved with a burner scandal with the Philadelphia 76ers. Soon, Marks hired coach Kenny Atkinson. Despite initially not having any of their own first-round picks during their rebuild, Brooklyn slowly made smart moves to build its team up. Marks got players including Caris LeVert and D’Angelo Russell in trades. They also signed guys like Spencer Dinwiddie and Joe Harris. General manager Sean Marks and head coach Kenny Atkinson were instrumental in helping create a culture where younger players could develop and become better all-around players. These fruits of their labor came to fruition in 2019, beginning with a 28- point comeback against the Kings.
They soon were able to win the 6th seed and beat a very tough Sixers team in the 2019 playoffs. Even though they lost, they looked like a team on the rise. But they were about to get even better. This was also the beginning of the free agency rumors beginning to swirl around the team.
Reported by Nets Daily’s Anthony Puccio back in 2019, the team had mutual interest in Irving dating all the way back to late May.
“Irving’s camp has kept a close eye on the Nets as the season progressed and the team got better, with the playoffs only helping their case,” Puccio reported.
This was the first time a big-name free agent was that strongly linked to the Nets in the Marks-Atkinson era. This was also part of a two-part deal. Get Irving, and you get Durant as well.
The plan to get two stars to Brooklyn worked. Irving not only inked a deal with the Nets but it set the foundation for them to sign Durant. From 2011-2013, the Nets acquired Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Deron Williams, and Joe Johnson. The Nets got burned when those guys failed spectacularly. With all their draft picks in Boston’s possession, the Nets were in the worst shape of any rebuilding team in recent memory. Now, they look like contenders for the NBA title this year.
Next week, The Knicks and how they look like a team of the future.