This was the visiting locker room at Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center late within the afternoon of April 13, 2019. Nets gamers have been nonetheless excessive on what they’d simply finished, which was to select Game 1 of their first-round playoff sequence filter out of the 76ers’ pockets, 111-102. It appeared inconceivable. It appeared implausible.
“Maybe what we accomplish surprises everybody else, and that’s OK,” mentioned Joe Harris, who’d finished what he all the time did — what he nonetheless does — in splashing three out of 4 3-pointers. “It doesn’t surprise any of us.”
A couple of lockers away, Caris LeVert’s smile stretched just like the Ben Franklin Bridge.
“Maybe,” he mentioned, “we have a couple of more surprises up our sleeves.”
They didn’t, but that was hardly the purpose. The Sixers roared again and received the subsequent 4 in a row, and the Nets’ neat little 42-40 regular-season trip led to a 1-4 slide within the playoffs, but there have been no complaints.
Complaints? You couldn’t speak to anybody within the NBA at the moment who didn’t journey over themselves praising basic supervisor Sean Marks, exulting coach Ken Atkinson, lauding gamers who had by some means managed to elevate the Nets from 20-62 to 28-54 to 42-40 in three brief years. The Nets have been a mannequin franchise, dedicated to constructing a robust basis first, disciplined, loyal to their codes. It wasn’t straightforward.
“Losing sucks,” Atkinson had mentioned not lengthy earlier than that playoffs started. “And losing a lot really sucks. But when you believe in what you’re doing, you have to have faith it all works out for the best.”
It was good, constructing from the ashes, rising from the mud, discovering an assortment of hungry gamers like Harris and LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie and Jarrett Allen, coaxing the perfect out of a fallen star like D’Angelo Russell. The press clippings have been stellar. The report playing cards have been glowing. The adjectives have been effusive. It was all fairly good. It was all fairly satisfying.
You know what was better?
You know what was extra satisfying?
That arrived precisely 68 days later, late on the night of June 30, when it turned clear, for the primary time, that the Nets hadn’t simply bagged an elephant named Kevin Durant, but additionally a rhinoceros named Kyrie Irving (and, for kicks, a good-sized hippopotamus named DeAndre Jordan). In someday the Nets went from feisty upstart to contenders-in-waiting.
Feisty is okay and dandy.
“Everyone in the NBA, in every sport really, talks up rebuilding as if it’s some kind of sacrament, and it usually is a smart way to go,” a long-time NBA worker instructed me the opposite day. “But it’s still building something on spec. Sure things beat spec, don’t they?”
It is not possible to argue. And it’s humorous: Across the years, particularly in basketball, we’ve got seen so many situations by which the locals have scoffed at rebuilding, opting as an alternative to roll the cube on on the spot gratification, and nearly all the time winding up with snake eyes for his or her bother.
The Knicks have finished this going again to the times of Bob McAdoo and Spencer Haywood. They as soon as traded for a wrong-side-of-the-hill Gerald Henderson, parting with a draft choose that turned a pleasant little participant named Scottie Pippen. It has been an infinite loop of that the previous 20 years. And the Nets almost dead-ended the franchise by making one of the short-sighted choices ever of their notorious cope with Boston.
Marks got here in and mentioned: sufficient. He employed Atkinson. He dedicated to restoring dignity first, then dependability. Winning adopted. The Nets have been a pleasant little staff to maintain your eye on, so much in order that even the Knicks, finally, appeared to embrace the idea after their uber-disaster of 2019, after they received 17 video games, parted methods with Kristaps Porzingis, coveted Zion Williamson, hoarded picks and cap house, and misplaced their abdomen to combat for Durant when he injured his Achilles (which value him the 2019-20 season).
And, you realize, rebuilding has labored out properly for the Knicks. They wound up with the best coach. They appear to have assembled gamers who’re coachable, a few of whom will even be helpful when the time comes to drag a megadeal set off. It’s been satisfying watching them be fierce and feisty.
The Nets are 10 video games from a championship. They look to make fast work of the Bucks when their sequence resumes Thursday in Milwaukee for Game 3. They look, at this second no less than, unstoppable and unbeatable.
Fierce and feisty is okay and dandy.
It’s onerous, nevertheless, to beat unstoppable and unbeatable.