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The Nets Are Going to Need More Time to Adjust Than Any Superteam in Recent Memory

Liam McKeone
Kevin Durant, James Harden, Kyrie Irving
Kevin Durant, James Harden, Kyrie Irving / Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
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The Brooklyn Nets acquired James Harden on January 14. They have played 14 games since then. In those 14 games, the Nets have gone 8-6. Some of those losses have been bad, like the one that came at the hands of the Detroit Pistons (a very bad team) on Tuesday night. Some of the wins have been very good, like the manhandling of the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday night; the Nets won by 10 but led by as many as 36 at one point.

On the surface, it feels like a mixed bag and a bit below expectations for a team with this much starpower. On the one hand, only five of those 14 games have come with all three of Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving in the lineup. On the other, each of those individual players have proven they can win on their own and losses still come more often than it feels like they should.

It's still very early in the season. No need to "worry" about this particular superteam. But more patience will be required than normal for the trio. Prepare yourselves for all the hot takes about how they aren't real championship contenders, because it may be some time before we see what the Nets can really do.

All the superteams in modern NBA history needed a few months to really settle into a groove in the first season the stars in question teamed up. These Nets will take longer to reach that perfect equilibrium than any previous iteration because it happened in-season. The Celtics, Heat, and Warriors all put together their superteams months before opening night. They had a whole offseason to plot and plan and practice. Brooklyn has to figure it out on the fly.

Let's compare, shall we? The 2007-08 Boston Celtics came out hot right from the get-go. The three stars they accumulated fit together seamlessly as an on-court trio, which is why they found success right away, going 12-2 in their first 14 games together. But they weren't the absolutely dominant squad such talent would suggest, needing overtime to beat a Toronto Raptors team that would finish 41-41, beating the bottom-feeding Charlotte Bobcats by merely one point, and barely squeaking by the Miami Heat, who would go on to finish with 15 wins on the season. Boston would go on to win 13 of their next 14, their only loss coming against the Detroit Pistons by two points.

The 2010-11 Heatles is probably the best comparison for this Nets squad in terms of fit. Positionally, they paired well, but LeBron James and Dwyane Wade both needed the ball in their hands to make things happen in the early days of their partnership. They didn't get off to a roaring start as a result. Like the 2020-21 Nets, the Heat went 8-6 in the first 14 games of their inaugural Big 3 season. They had some tough losses, too, like dropping one to the Grizzlies (finished the year with 22 wins) and another to the Pacers (finished the year with 36 wins). Once everyone settled in, the Heat would win 12 of their next 14 games and never looked back.

It is more than a little unfair to compare the 2016-17 Golden State Warriors to anybody. Unlike the other modern superteams, the Dubs had a title in their back pocket and were the best team in the league already before they brought their third star on board in Durant. Still, the opening nights of their first season together weren't completely flawless. They won 12 of their first 14 games, but lost by 29 to the San Antonio Spurs on opening night and were blown out by the Los Angeles Lakers. In case anyone forgot, the post-Kobe, pre-LeBron Lakers were really bad! And the Warriors lost by 20! With Durant, Steph Curry, and Klay Thompson! Of course, that didn't matter and Golden State went on to win two straight titles.

Obviously every team has their stumbles. It's a long season. That's not really the point. The point is that all these teams had to struggle to strike the perfect balance and work before reaching equilibrium. All these teams had an advantage over the Nets in that they had months to prepare, Brooklyn had a short offseason and training camp. Steve Nash is a first-year head coach who spent his offseason scheming up an offense for Durant and Irving, then had to throw everything out the window when Harden joined the fray. Not to mention all the extenuating factors like a pandemic and unusual schedule resulting from said pandemic.

Even if the Nets' three stars can actually get on the floor together for an extended period of time, it may be April before we see the fully realized version of the team. When that happens, nobody will have any questions. But until then, the Nets are going to be ever-evolving in the process of figuring it all out.

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