The Nets are the turn-around story of the season in the NBA, but it isn’t like people didn’t see it coming. I for one believed from the start of the season that they would finish with a better record than the Knicks. Analysts expected the Nets to make the playoffs even as a top 4 seed. Then the Nets got off to a great start, and Coach Avery Johnson won NBA Coach of the Month for November. The Nets then slid back to .500 and Johnson was fired, but since PJ Carlesimo took over the team the Nets have become the team that analysts thought they would be at the beginning of the year. On the surface it seems like the Nets biggest change is that they moved from New Jersey to Brooklyn over the summer. Another big change, they got new jerseys designed by minority (although often thought to be majority by everyone) owner Jay-Z.
But there are so many more changes that go much deeper than simply a new name, a new building, and a new look. The roster this year has just six players who finished last season with the Nets. They made another big time addition in Joe Johnson, just about a year and a half after trading for Deron Williams. Billy King filled the roster with good role players like Reggie Evans who does not know how to play offense but is great on defense and rebounding. Mirza Teletovic has turned out to be a pretty valuable piece now that he has gotten out of Avery Johnson’s doghouse (mainly because Johnson got fired). Jerry Stackhouse has proved that he can still knock down the corner three if needed. Andray Blatche has proved that when he wants to play basketball he can be a skillful big man with surprisingly good ball handling skills. Gerald Wallace, a mid-season addition last year, has proved that he can defend some of the best offensive players in the league. Brook Lopez is finally playing at full strength after playing just five games last season. Deron Williams is starting to play like his all-star expectations again after beginning the year a little slow.
The turn around started when PJ Carlesimo took over as head coach. At the time the Nets were .500. Since then, they are 11-2 and have impressive wins against Oklahoma City, New York, Philadelphia and Atlanta. Simply put, the Nets are much more than a new set of uniforms. Billy King has made moves to create a team that can legitimately contend for the title of best team in New York and (dare I say it) maybe a chance to contend for an Eastern Conference title.
With all that being said, I think that the change of scenery has actually helped the Nets. Being from New Jersey, I can say that I think the Nets alienated their fan base. The plans for the Barclays Center were revealed in 2004. So for eight seasons, the fans knew that the team would not be there in the near future. At the time of the announcement, the Nets were still a viable and respectable NBA franchise. They went to the NBA finals just two years prior and still had Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson and made a trade to land Vince Carter (yes, the announcement was made THAT long ago). At first, the Nets were going to move to Brooklyn in 2006, but then came the legal issues that caused the opening to wait until 2012. The fans in New Jersey, myself included, felt like lame ducks. Why would we want to drive all the way to Brooklyn to see the team that we liked to watch? Slowly, as the team became less talented, with Richard Jefferson, Vince Carter, and Jason Kidd all traded over the years, the fans stopped showing up. One could probably argue that the fans stopped showing up long before the trades were made, but it is really irrelevant.
By moving to Brooklyn, the whole team got a change of scenery much like a player gets a change of scenery after a trade. Now they are playing in front of a full building most nights, even if it is just because people want to see the new building or even are fans of the opposing team. There is more energy in the Barclays Center each night than there was in Continental Airlines Arena/Izod Center/Prudential Center for roughly the last six years. The Nets have become less and less connected to the Nets name and more and more connected to the Brooklyn name. Fans chant “Brooooklyn, Brooooklyn” as opposed to “Let’s Go Nets.” The fans are connected to the team because of the city they play in, not because of the team. Brooklyn was longing for a new professional sports team, and now they finally have one.