Brian ErniIt’s the same tired song and dance. A New York team hits their ceiling short of a championship, and it’s time to reverse course. Yet, somehow, the old refrain always billows down in identical fashion: “You can’t rebuild in New York.” I’m here to tell you that you can, and the Nets are… and they’ll still be competitive.
Here’s a secret: the idea that you can’t rebuild in New York is really, really dumb. Despite what you hear on WFAN, the New York fan is pretty savvy. Most understand that the way to build a long, sustained period of success is crafting an organization that is fiscally responsible, has a core of homegrown talent, and stability in the front office. Whether it was the Islanders dynasty of the ’80s, the Mets crafting the best record in baseball from ’84-’89, or the Yankees winning four titles in a five year span, that’s how you get the job done. The economics vary based on the intricacies of each league’s collective bargaining agreement, but the premise remains the same. Start from a clean slate, building it back up again, then spend money retaining that talent and adding a key piece or two.
The problem is somewhere during that Yankees run of championships, the collective New York zeitgeist decided that 12 million people magically overnight morphed into Veruca Salt and, “I WANT A CHAMPIONSHIP NOW, DADDY!” It got worse when both front offices and the collective New York fan consciousness bought into it, so much so that as recently as Friday when I was talking to my Knicks fan friend, he insisted the Knicks should double down on acquisitions because, “You can’t rebuild in New York.” This phenomenon is to blame for almost every cringe-worthy acquisition in New York sports history from Mo Vaughn and Hideki Irabu to Gerald Wallace and Andrea Bargnani.
However, a happy medium to rebuilding has emerged of late. A sort of hybrid system of rebuilding, never more prevalent than in the NBA. A way to bridge that gap to a brighter future, while staying competitive and not necessarily tanking to enter the lottery.
It usually happens when you have a star player or two still under contract who range anywhere from competent to in their prime. Provided they can stay productive, those players are coupled with useful veterans with short-term contract commitments that can help put together a team that is good enough to make the playoffs, and — with a few breaks — might be able to do some damage in the postseason. Once those contracts are up, they bridge the gap to some kind of magical year, where there are no salary commitments, hopefully a base core of two of three young players, and a freedom to go out and spend to turn something promising into something that has all the makings of a consistent title contender.
Enter your 2014-15 Brooklyn Nets.
The Nets fit perfectly into the new school style of rebuilding. They have those star players that are still effective (Deron Williams and Brook Lopez). Yes, both of them are admittedly flawed, but still close enough to their prime to make a difference in an NBA lineup. Add in an seemingly-ageless Joe Johnson, and that’s a core that can’t really be ignored. Now the temporary pieces. Marcus Thornton’s expiring deal was cashed in for Jarrett Jack, who himself with be an expiring deal next season. So Jack, who needs to bounce back off a tough year in Cleveland, will be that temporary veteran piece who should keep the wheels moving, and will also be attractive to teams both at the deadline and in next year’s offseason. Meanwhile, Sergey Karasev and Mason Plumlee (along with Bogan Bogdanovic, who is a veteran baller, but still just 25) make up that young, exuberant dynamic. Players that will hopefully be the core of the Nets’ next serious title contender.
So while it’s not a traditional rebuild, the Nets are eyeing the future nonetheless. It will be more interesting than tearing things down to the studs, and Brooklyn expects to still make some noise in the meantime, but make no mistake: that the magic year this team is looking towards building the next big thing 2015 offseason.