Brooklyn Nets

It seems safe to say the Nets are now a legitimate contender

It seems safe to say the Nets are now a legitimate contender

At some point, the dust is going to settle on the chaotic spectacle that is NBA free agency.

For the time being, we know a few things, including that the Brooklyn Nets have agreed to deals with Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.

While it's difficult to completely understand what Durant and Irving heading to Brooklyn means for the landscape of the NBA until other stars like Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler make their decisions, it's probably safe to say that there's another legitimate contender in the Eastern Conference. 

Durant will spend next season rehabbing after tearing his Achillles tendon in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, so we'll have to wait to see Brooklyn's full potential. General manager Sean Marks has intelligently assembled a pretty strong supporting cast for his stars, with Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris and Taurean Prince among the players under contract for next season.

The Nets have also already added veteran guard Garrett Temple in free agency, according to a report from The Undefeated's Marc Spears. 

There's no doubt Brooklyn's roster is going to be a lot stronger than the group that lost to the Sixers in the first round of the playoffs last year. 

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Brooklyn Nets position themselves to land star(s) in reported trade

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USA Today Images

Brooklyn Nets position themselves to land star(s) in reported trade

It appears competition may be getting a bit stiffer for the Sixers in the Eastern Conference.

The Nets made a trade with the Hawks, trading guard Allen Crabbe, the 17th pick in the 2019 NBA Draft and a top-14 protected first-round pick in 2020 to Atlanta for Taurean Prince and a 2021 second-round pick, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

On the surface, the trade doesn’t seem like much, but the deal frees Brooklyn from Crabbe’s contract and would give the Nets two max cap spaces. In a loaded free-agent class, Kyrie Irving would appear to be the primary target. 

According to Wojnarowski, Irving is seriously considering the Nets over the Knicks. With the extra max slot, Irving could try to convince Kevin Durant or Jimmy Butler to join him. And if they miss out on the top-tier free agents, someone like Tobias Harris, a Long Island native, could be an option.

They could also look at bringing back restricted free agent D’Angelo Russell. There have been reports that the Nets believe an Irving-Russell pairing “could not only coexist but thrive.” That doesn’t seem likely. Irving and Russell are both ball-dominant players that struggle defensively.

Still, there’s a chance this reported trade could give the Nets a boost and hurt the Sixers.

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Sixers summon 'dark' boxing analogies, make the highly unusual seem normal in blowout Game 5 win over Nets

Sixers summon 'dark' boxing analogies, make the highly unusual seem normal in blowout Game 5 win over Nets

As an observer, it was difficult to process what you were watching. 14-0. 20-2. 30-6. 

The Nets missed their first eight field goal attempts. Joel Embiid had 10 points before Brooklyn had any. In their last chance to preserve their season, the Nets had their lowest first-quarter scoring output of the year — 15. 

None of the numbers made sense, and it felt like nobody at Wells Fargo Center could quite believe what was happening besides the Sixers’ players.

They understood this was a possibility, JJ Redick said after their 122-100 win to advance to a second-round playoff matchup against the Raptors (see observations)

We had talked about how a team’s mindset down 3-1, if you can take their heart early, you might have a chance to put them away, deliver the knockout punch, all the boxing analogies I can come up with. I have some dark analogies, but I shared those with the team. I don’t want to share them with you guys, but they’re dark. But yeah, you gotta put people away. 

The Sixers put the Nets away so early there wasn’t much of the exultation, relief or sense of profound fatigue that might typically correspond with winning a a playoff series — especially one that featured various skirmishes, trash talk and fines.

Joel Embiid’s analysis was understated.

“Tonight was a good game,” he said. “If we're as focused as we were tonight, then we got a pretty good chance to accomplish what we want. After the type of game like tonight, you go back and watch the tape and see what worked out and what didn't. Obviously we've got to lower our turnovers (19), but other than that I thought our defense was great.”

With the exception of Game 1, the Sixers ultimately did what they were supposed to do against the Nets. It’s exciting to move on to the second round, sure, but it isn’t foreign or unexpected.

After winning the first playoff series of his eight-year NBA career, Tobias Harris acknowledged he’s likely never been involved in a game that began the way Tuesday night’s did.

“Probably not,” Harris said. “I think our start really dictated the whole pace of the game. We said it after last game — we get out to a good start, really kill their momentum, kill their vibe all around. I thought the start to this game was impactful, was powerful for us. When we talk about imposing our will, that was a sound example of that.”

Taking a 24-point lead in the first quarter, depleting an opposition of whatever energy they might have had left, matching playoff records — none of those things should be easy to accomplish against the Raptors.

The expectations will change in that series as well, with the Sixers no longer assuming the role of favorites. The boxing analogies Redick employs might need to shift.

The Sixers’ reaction to Tuesday night’s obliteration of the Nets, though, indicates that they don’t feel much of anything is beyond their capabilities. 

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