Illustration by staff illustrator Sakura Siegel.
The Brooklyn Nets shocked the league by trading for James Harden and forming one of the greatest trios of all time, but it wasn’t easy getting to where they are now.
Originally in New Jersey, the Nets joined the NBA in 1976 and spent their first two and a half decades as a mediocre team, only making the playoffs in ten out of their first 24 seasons, making the second round of the playoffs once.
Following three consecutive seasons of missing the playoffs, the Nets traded for superstar point guard Jason Kidd in the 2001 offseason. At the time he was a four-time All-Star, three-time assists leader, three-time All-NBA and three-time All-Defensive player.
Kidd went on to lead the Nets to a 52-20 record, their best record in franchise history, and was the only time they reached 50 wins.
Entering the playoffs as a first seed, they took care of their eastern competition pretty easily, only losing five games enroute to their first finals appearance as part of the NBA.
Unfortunately, they matched up against Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant’s Lakers and were ultimately swept.
The following season saw the Nets finish as a second seed and they made quick work out of their conference opponents, only losing two games on their way to their second straight finals.
This time, they faced Tim Duncan’s Spurs. After tying up the series 2-2, the Nets lost two straight and were eliminated in the finals again.
The Nets never recovered, and failed to make it past the second round since then, despite pairing superstar Vince Carter with Kidd in 2004. The duo led the team to the playoffs for three consecutive seasons until Kidd was traded in the middle of the 2007-2008 season.
For their final six seasons as the New Jersey Nets, they failed to make the playoffs.
Upon moving to Brooklyn, the Nets made the playoffs led by the trio of Brook Lopez, Deron Williams and Joe Johnson. All three players made exactly one All-Star appearance as a member of the Nets.
The team finished as a fourth seed and were eliminated in the first round by the Bulls in seven games.
Following their playoff appearance, the Nets pulled the trigger on one of the most lopsided trades of all time. The trade saw the Celtics trade their aging stars Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry along with a 2017 first-round and second-round pick to the Nets for first-round picks in 2014, 2016, 2017 and 2018, and the expiring contracts of Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, Keith Bogans, MarShon Brooks and Kris Joseph.
Garnett and Pierce are recognized as top ten players all-time at their respective positions, small forward and power forward. Unfortunately, both players were at the tail end of their careers, with Garnett averaging 6.5 and 6.8 points per game during his two seasons with the Nets and Pierce averaging 13.5 points in his lone season with the team.
The Nets won fewer games after trading for Garnett and Pierce, making the sixth seed. Despite this, they advanced to the second round but were taken out by the eventual champions, the Miami Heat.
The Nets advanced to the playoffs the following year, but were quickly taken out by the Atlanta Hawks.
They failed to make the playoffs for the following three seasons, while not owning their first-round pick.
Their picks in 2016 and 2017 netted the Boston Celtics Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, both of whom have emerged as young superstars.
The 2018 pick was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers, turning into Collin Sexton, who is panning out to be a star and one of the top players in the loaded 2018 draft.
In the 2017 offseason, the Nets completed a trade that saw them acquire D’Angelo Russell, a promising prospect from the Lakers.
After missing the playoffs in 2018, Russell had a breakout season, averaging 21 points and made his first All-Star appearance. The Nets finished as a sixth seed and made the playoffs, but were handed a first round elimination at the hands of the 76ers.
Throughout the 2018-2019 season, many speculated the destinations of upcoming free agents Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Both looked unpleased with their current teams, and throughout the season it looked likely that both of them would join the New York Knicks.
Since the Nets moved to Brooklyn, they were seen as the inferior New York team.
However, the Knicks losing culture and questionable roster moves made them look less attractive compared to the Nets, who were coming off a playoff appearance. This caused Irving and Durant to sign with the Nets, immediately forming a contender. Russell was traded to the Warriors as part of a sign-and-trade deal that resulted in Durant becoming a Net.
As of now, Durant is a two-time Finals MVP, one-time MVP, ten-time All-Star, and a nine-time All-NBA player. Irving is currently a one-time NBA champion, six-time All-Star, and two-time All-NBA player.
Durant was sidelined during the 2019-2020 season due to an achilles injury suffered during the 2019 finals, and Irving battled injuries throughout the season. Despite this, the Nets managed to make the playoffs as a seventh seed but were taken out by the Raptors.
This season, Durant and Irving played their first game together, and immediately worked well as teammates. Durant recovered fully from the achilles injury, which has historically derailed careers. He is in the midst of a potential MVP season.
After James Harden made a public trade request, the Nets traded Jarrett Allen, Taurean Prince, Caris LeVert and Rodions Kurucs, as well as three first round draft picks and four first round pick swaps 2021, 2023, 2025 and 2027 in the deal for Harden.
This trade is unlike the one completed with the Celtics.
Harden is a one-time MVP, eight-time All-Star, seven-time All-NBA player, three-time scoring leader, and one-time assists leader. He is coming off two straight seasons of averaging more than thirty-four points per game.
Durant is currently averaging thirty points per game, while Irving is averaging twenty-eight and Harden is averaging twenty-four. Harden is also averaging twelve assists per game, which is a league high.
The Nets are favored to make the finals and have a great shot to finally win a NBA championship.
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