NEW YORK (AP) — The Brooklyn Nets finished the same way without Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving as they did with them.
The Nets were swept out the playoffs, the first team sent home for the summer for the second straight year.
The team that took the floor against the Philadelphia 76ers struggled to score, couldn’t rebound and is miles away from title contention. But that team probably won’t be around next season.
Brooklyn got back plenty of draft picks in the trades of Durant, Irving and James Harden, and will have options to quickly get to a better place than they are now — or were with their superstars.
“There’s not many teams, many organizations I think have ever blown up a superstar-studded group that possibly was in championship contention in one year and have the possibility of championship contention again the very next season,” guard Spencer Dinwiddie said Sunday.
Only three teams own more first-round picks than the Nets between now and 2030, general manager Sean Marks said, giving them flexibility to draft players or package picks in a trade for an established star. He wouldn’t predict a quick rise in the standings, but it can’t be ruled out.
“We have a young group here that is wanting to compete, so we’re going to be going after it every year,” Marks said.
It wasn’t like this last summer, and Marks said the Nets have “a bright pathway.”
The Nets were as high as second in the Eastern Conference before Durant got hurt in early January. After Durant and Irving were traded within days of each other in February, Brooklyn hung on to finish sixth.
With four new starters who were together only two months, the Nets knew they were fighting inexperience and a tough veteran team like Philadelphia in the postseason.
“I think it’s part of the business and I think situations like we were put in this year prepare us for anything that can come up this summer, no matter what it is,” said Cam Johnson, who will be a restricted free agent.
Dinwiddie was on the Nets team that lost to the 76ers in the first round in 2019, then watched as Brooklyn looked to rebuild by signing Durant and Irving. He came back to the organization from Dallas in February in the deal for Irving, just days before Durant was dealt to Phoenix in the deal that brought back Johnson and Mikal Bridges.
“I think you’re looking at a team that kind of mirrors a Milwaukee without Giannis. So if you think you can go get a Giannis, then are you probably a very, very good team at that point? Likely,” Dinwiddie said of the current Nets structure. “If you don’t, you do have a bevy of draft picks and probably several guys that can net you more draft picks. So, I mean, really, they can go either route. And I mean, shoot they could also choose to stand pat and roll the dice.”
Bridges, last year’s runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year, showed star potential as the No. 1 scoring option in Brooklyn. Center Nic Claxton had by far his best season. Johnson looked like a keeper in his first season as a starter. Marks said Ben Simmons, shut down early again because of back problems, is expected to be ready by September.
They will certainly be joined by newcomers. After that, Claxton hopes the Nets can be stable for a time and let the next group find success.
“Especially going into a playoff series, I mean teams have been together, they’ve been in the trenches together for maybe five-plus years, and then you throw in a whole new team,” Claxton said. “But, not making no excuses, just it would be nice going forward if we could maybe just start to build something here.”