The Brooklyn Nets are hands down the most intriguing team entering the 2020-2021 NBA season. With Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving scheduled to play together for the first time healthy, the Eastern Conference will have fun with two of the top players in the league. Plus, the young core is back after finishing 35-37 with a playoff appearance.
Now that the Nets are back to full strengths, the core will be under a microscope. However, Irving and Durant wanted this scenario. The two came to Brooklyn to play together. We know what each player can do when the lights are on. While the Los Angeles Lakers are favored to make it back to the NBA Finals (more on that later), we should expect to see the Nets join them on the grandest stage of them all.
1. The Lakers Have The Best Western Conference Team
The NBA champions found a way to get richer this offseason. While losing Rajon Rondo hurts, the team reloaded with the quality talent to fortify the team. This roster is at least 10 players deep. Starting with LeBron James, even at the age of 36 (turns this age on December 30), James has shown no signs of slowing down after averaging 25.3 points, 7.8 rebounds, and a career-high 10.3 assists per game.
Anthony Davis was just given a five-year supermax deal after a season that saw him average 26.1 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks per game. The rest of the starting lineup should feature Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Markief Morris, and Dennis Schroder. While Caldwell-Pope shined as the team’s third-leading scorer in the playoffs, the trade for Schroder is going to pay huge dividends in the long run. Schroeder averaged more than 18 points a game last season and was the runner-up for Sixth Man of the Year. The idea of him playing as the team’s starting shooting guard makes sense. With LeBron passing him the ball, he could average north of 20 points a game.
The pickups of Montrezl Harrell and Marc Gasol are also huge acquisitions. While Gasol is not in his prime anymore, the 35-year old can serve as a veteran voice and as a role player for Davis and is a former Defensive Player of the Year. Harrell is the reigning Sixth Man of the Year after he averaged 18.6 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. We didn’t even mention Kyle Kuzma or Alex Caruso, who has started for this team in the past. This team is loaded and swarming with depth.
2. Kevin Durant And Kyrie Irving Have Something To Prove
Durant and Irving have both won an NBA championship, two if you are Durant including two Finals MVPs. Both players have dealt with the idea of there being an asterisk next to their names. Even though Irving was an instrumental part of that 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers team, he was playing alongside LeBron James. When Irving left to go to the Boston Celtics, the team was said to be better off without him. Irving’s reputation as a leader and the idea that he is a team’s No. 1 option went down the drain after his Celtics tenure.
As for Durant, even though he owns two Finals MVP awards, he played alongside Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. Before Durant showed up, the team won 73 games without him. While Durant will always have his championship rings, his legacy is somewhat tainted because of who he played with.
Durant has an opportunity to put a team on his back, while Irving has a chance at clearing his reputation. The Nets haven’t won a championship since 1976 and that was when the team was in New York. Both could cement their place in NBA history by bringing Brooklyn its first NBA title.
3. LeBron James Wants A Fifth Title
As previously mentioned, LeBron has shown no signs of slowing down. He was a handful of rebounds away from averaging a triple-double. He has changed his game, pushed all the right buttons, and proved that he is the second-best basketball player to ever play the game.
LeBron James wants to break out of the shadow of Michael Jordan. Jordan’s six championships have always been a key talking point when debating Michael vs. LeBron. LeBron has made the finals 10 times and is 4-6 all-time. If Lebron can make the finals two more times and win one more championship, there might be enough data to support that he is the greatest of all time.
4. The Nets Have The Best Superstar Duo In The East
Even with the Nets roster, the Eastern Conference is an anomaly. The Milwaukee Bucks are going to be considered the preseason favorite to win the conference. With Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, and the newly acquired Jrue Holiday, the Bucks still contain a solid foundation. However, Milwaukee fell to the Miami Heat in the second round of the playoffs, proving the team has not proven it can win when it counts.
As for the other contenders, the Heat brings back the same core that made the NBA Finals. The Celtics lost Gordon Hayward, while the Toronto Raptors appear to have one magical year left. The Washington Wizards trade for Russell Westbrook and the world is waiting to see how that pairing with Bradley Beal will go down.
With so much uncertainty, one has to believe that a combination of Durant and Irving has to trump the rest of the superstar balance of the Eastern Conference. Does a combination of Giannis and Middleton, Jayson Tatum and Jaylon Brown, Westbrook and Beal, or Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam scare the Nets off? Based on resumes, the Nets have a better pairing.
5. The Fresh Factor
Take a look at the last half-decade and don’t you see a trend? New faces have been leading NBA teams to new heights. Gregg Popovich is six years from winning an NBA title. Since then, new voices in the locker room are trending upwards. In the Western Conference, Steve Kerr hit the ground running and has sustained dominant success. Frank Vogel helped change the identity of the Lakers to a defensive team. In just one season, the team went from not qualifying in the postseason to winning an NBA title. In the Eastern Conference, Nick Nurse led the Raptors to an NBA title in his first year, while Tyron Lue did the same when he took over midseason for David Blatt in 2016.
Steve Nash was handpicked by Durant and Irving to lead this team. He has surrounded himself with quality assistant coaches in Mike D’Antoni, Ime Udoka, and Jacque Vaughn, who should be a head coach in the league after leading the Nets to a 7-3 record after Kenny Atkinson was fired. Nash is a former two-time MVP and knows the game. He could be the next fresh coach to lead a team far in his coaching debut.