Despite enduring as chaotic an offseason as any team this past summer, all seems to be quiet — and focused on basketball — as the Nets trek through the first leg of their season. That’s as good of an indication as there can be that this team is.
The Nets’ summer consisted of contentious negotiations between Kyrie Irving and Nets management, followed by Kevin Durant’s trade request — then his subsequent demand Nets owner Joe Tsai fire both general manager Sean Marks and head coach Steve Nash.
Tsai did neither. Irving opted into the final year of his contract and is essentially operating on a one-year deal. Durant had a clearing-of-the-air meeting calling for accountability from top to bottom, and the Nets entered this season with one goal:
Figuring out how to best utilize their pieces to be the last team standing at the end of the season.
Elsewhere in the NBA, however, other teams are experiencing much more turmoil than the Nets, whose main concern at this juncture of the season is getting star forward Ben Simmons back to the most aggressive version of himself after a 470-day layoff between games played.
RUSSELL WESTBROOK EXPERIMENT
For the Nets, it was about not making a deal. For the Lakers, it’s about the deal they should have struck.
The Lakers have lost their first three games of the season, and Russell Westbrook has been abominable in purple and gold. In his latest display of poor decision-making, Westbrook attempted and missed a pull-up jump shot at the worst time: The Lakers led by one with less than 30 seconds left in the fourth quarter and 17 seconds left on the shot clock against Damian Lillard’s Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday.
It was such a blunder, Westbrook’s lead stars LeBron James and Anthony Davis were animated in their disbelief of his decision.
And you know what happened next: Lillard hit a stepback three to give the Trail Blazers a two-point lead, and Portland — a team some would consider undermatched given the Lakers’ starpower — went on to win in crunch time.
Here are some more glaring stats from Westbrook’s awful start to the season: He is shooting 3-of-17 on jump shots through the first three games of the year and is 4-of-26 from the field in his team’s last two losses. Those losses have only been by a combined eight points, which in theory means the Lakers could have evenly distributed his shots to other teammates and had a better chance to win.
The Lakers are going to be a mess until one of two things happen: Westbrook starts playing better, and fast, which doesn’t appear on the horizon; or they trade him for one of several packages reportedly available at the cost of both their tradeable first-round picks in 2027 and 2029.
SIXERS STARTED 0-3
That’s a pretty terrible start for a team that not only kept their entire core intact from last season’s team, but also added depth with two of their superstar guard’s friends in P.J. Tucker and Danuel House.
Yet here they are with two understandable losses to the defending conference champion Boston Celtics and the year prior’s NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks. Both of those teams are experiencing some issues: The Celtics are dealing with a widely-reported coaching change; and the Bucks are still missing All-Star forward Khris Middleton.
But losing to a San Antonio Spurs team primed to be tanking for Victor Wembanyama at the end of the year is inexcusable. Joel Embiid scored 40 points and Tyrese Maxey has established himself as a bright star with another impressive performance (25 points, six assists), but James Harden only posted 12 points with 12 assists, and Tobias Harris — whose name was floated in trade rumors this past summer — feels like the odd man out with Maxey’s ascendence within the organization.
It’s early in the season, but many had the 76ers pegged as a dominant championship contender given Embiid is anchoring the defense and Harden being surrounded with so many offensive weapons.
BULLS OFF TO ROCKY START
Another team with largely the same core as last year off to a slower start than they would have hoped.
The Bulls still have the trio of DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic, and even though they’re missing Lonzo Ball (knee surgery rehab), the roster is still full of depth at every position. Yet after beating the Heat, the Bulls lost to a Wizards team no one has pegged as a playoff contender on a Bradley Beal game winner, then got blown out by the Cavaliers in a 32-point performance from Donovan Mitchell.
NETS PROCEEDING AS EXPECTED
No one thought Simmons would get back to looking like his old self immediately. And with Joe Harris, Seth Curry and T.J. Warren nursing injuries to start this season, no one thought the Nets would be immediately healthy, either.
In fact, Nash has made it clear on a number of occasions that things would look ugly early as the team incorporates new wrinkles to a recently installed offense and learns how each five-man unit meshes after adding new pieces to the rotation over the summer. The Nets are a work in progress, but that work isn’t nearly as disastrous as the drama over the offseason would have suggested. And in this case, for the Nets, all quiet is all clear.
JAZZ ARE 3-0
Show me the person who bet that the Utah Jazz would win their first three games and I’ll show you a delusional sports fan who just so happens to now be filthy rich.
The Jazz have beaten three legitimate Western Conference contenders: the same New Orleans Pelicans team that beat the Nets by 22; the same Minnesota Timberwolves team that paired Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert; and the same Denver Nuggets team led by the reigning league Most Valuable Player Nikola Jokic.
That’s really interesting — given this was a team expected to tank to the heavens after trading star guard Mitchell to Cleveland and sending Gobert to Minnesota in the first place.
Lauri Markkanen and Collin Sexton are trying to prove they’re not just Cleveland’s leftovers, and two seasons after winning the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year, Jordan Clarkson is showing what he can do as a starter.
The ironic part, of course, is that with every win this unlikely group of undefeated hoopers strings together, the further Danny Ainge gets from being in position to select a generational talent like the 7-3 Wembanyama in this year’s upcoming draft.