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Jalen Rose: This Isn't the Year For Nets to Win the East

Liam McKeone
Apr 22, 2021, 11:15 AM EDT
Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving
Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving | Sarah Stier/Getty Images
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The Brooklyn Nets have more offensive firepower assembled on one roster than perhaps any roster in modern NBA history. But we've yet to see the team firing on all cylinders thanks to cycling injury issues between the Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving. Since January 14, the day the Nets executed the blockbuster transaction to bring Harden to New York, the team's three stars have played exactly seven games together. That's it. Irving's sporadic sabbaticals, Durant's lingering hamstring issues, and Harden's new hamstring issues have all combined to ensure Brooklyn can't yet see how dominant they really are when everyone is on the floor.

It's all a bit unfortunate even for non-Nets fans. Harden, Durant, and Irving are all generational scorers and watching them work in concert for even just those seven games has been a treat. After Harden's recent setback in his hamstring recovery, it's looking more and more likely Brooklyn will have to roll into the playoffs hoping everyone is healthy and kind of just figure it out from there. No better time to build chemistry than when the stakes are highest, I guess.

But even the postseason won't bring a guarantee that the three superstars can all stay 100 percent. The stars have not aligned in Brooklyn's favor for the last three months and there's no reason to suspect that will change with the advent of playoff basketball. When taking that into consideration and pairing it with the very obvious defensive deficiencies on the team, Jalen Rose is of the opinion that 2021 is simply not the Nets' year.

Outside of the snakebitten aspect of all this, Rose points out that building chemistry is hard and these guys will have to do it in the gauntlet of playoff basketball. More importantly, they have no size to defend dominant big men on the opposing team. DeAndre Jordan is beyond washed, Nic Claxton has been a revelation as a switching big man but can't guard true centers yet, and Jeff Green plays hard but is still a power forward playing the five. This is a particularly significant problem when considering the Nets will likely have to beat both Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid in order to be crowned as the Eastern Conference champs.

So, yeah, when you put it like that it seems like it'll be difficult for Brooklyn to pull this off. But I'm not sure they have the wiggle room Rose seems to imply here to accept that this is not their year. Championship windows close shockingly fast in the NBA. That's true for any team, and lest we forget, Brooklyn has gathered three of the more... mercurial personalities in the NBA to play for the same team. Harden showed up out of shape and demanded a trade at the start of this season, Irving is only two years removed from blowing up in Boston, and Durant is so Online that any problem could arise at any time. Everything is fine now, but who knows how everyone will feel come next fall after an early playoff exit?

It's also not like the biggest threats to a potential Nets NBA Finals run are going away anytime soon, either. Embiid is 27. Giannis is 25. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are both 24 and under up in Boston. The Heat will always be a tough out and will only get tougher as 24-year-old Bam Adebayo improves. The Hawks are building something and the Pacers are always in the mix. Most of these teams feel a piece short or years of development away from taking the next step to legitimate contenders, but that could change as soon as next season.

If anything, this first season, when defenders are still getting accustomed to defending all three stars, is the season to capitalize and win the East and subsequently a championship. It gives everyone a great feeling heading into the offseason. There would be no further pressure to prove they can "make it work." It theoretically prevents someone like Embiid gaining enough confidence to single-handedly bulldoze his way through the team for years to come. Durant and Irving especially would seem to appreciate the praise media would be forced to sing if they did win a chip. The issues Rose lists are real, but the Nets are capped out and without draft picks for the foreseeable future. There's no quick fix for the defense that will come next season.

It won't be easy. But if anyone can do it, they can. And they better. Because if they don't, the noise about the failure of the Brooklyn Big 3 will be too loud to ignore. After that, who knows what will happen?

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