The Brooklyn Nets are approaching their most meaningful season in years. There are three goals they must hit to make it a successful one.
Last year, the Brooklyn Nets finished a promising year in a lackluster fashion. 2017 summer acquisition D’Angelo Russell left much to be desired and nearly all five starters missed significant time with injury.
With one year to prepare for the ever-approaching star-packed 2019 free agency class, Brooklyn will need to take noteworthy strides as a basketball club.
So, three goals that will help them get there:
Make the Playoffs
Likely the most important milestone a team this young can hit, making the playoffs will be their number one priority.
The Eastern Conference has opened up, following the departure of basketball’s greatest player LeBron James. He moved West to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers this summer, after winning the East eight years consecutively.
It doesn’t make the Brooklyn Nets a sure-fire postseason seed, but it makes James’ former team in Cleveland less likely to reach the playoffs. Thus opening up one slot for an aspiring club.
Berthing the playoffs will not only provide experience to a team that’s young, but lay proof that there’s a foundation in Brooklyn that could benefit a pending star-level free agent.
Unlock D'Angelo Russell's Full Potential
Brooklyn acquired D’Angelo Russell last season in exchange for their then-franchise face Brook Lopez. The expectation was that Russell, in a new and more supportive environment, could spearhead an exciting young offense and growing franchise.
And in the beginning, that’s exactly what he did. Russell averaged 20.9 points and 5.6 assists in his first 12 appearances. He posted a season-high 33 points in October against the Phoenix Suns:
Then, the basketball gods stepped in with a different agenda.
The former number two overall pick went on to miss a 33-game stretch after arthroscopic knee surgery.
He returned to the court in February, but not at the same level.
Much of Brooklyn’s future will be determined by Russell’s performance in his second year with the team.
He’s got high upside if healthy next season, and there’s a lot of potential to tap into. If the coaching staff can unlock his true potential as a point guard, the Nets will look to sign him to a rookie-scale extension.
That’s something that Russell has been very vocal about wanting to do: live out his career in Brooklyn.
Back in March, he said just that in an interview with Brian Lewis of the New York Post:
“I plan on being here for life, so I think that time will happen. I feel like it’ll catch up. I won’t [lose that time from injury],” Russell said. “Eighty-two games sounds like a lot, but that went by quick. I missed a lot, but it went by fast. Imagine what two or three healthy seasons, which relationships can be built, what creative strategies you and the coaches can create, timing.”
With how the team’s future is taking shape, there’s no doubt his wish to continue on with the Nets has wavered.
However, if Russell sees another year go to waste with injury, his time in Brooklyn will be finished sooner than later. Thus, changing the Nets agenda approaching next summer.
Sign Rondae Hollis-Jefferson to an Extension
The Brooklyn Nets have one player remaining from the 2015-2016 season, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
Last year, he averaged career-highs almost entirely across the board: 13.9 points, 2.5 assists, and 6.8 rebounds per game.
If it weren’t for injury, one could argue that he would have gone on to contend for the league’s Most Improved Player award. Hollis-Jefferson advanced his offensive repertoire while continuing to defend at an above-average level.
That includes an impressive 20 point and 14 rebound performance against the Miami Heat in March:
Now entering his fourth NBA season, the team’s longest-tenured player will become a restricted free agent in just one year.
The Nets can tend him a $3.5 million qualifying offer next summer, but he’ll earn more than that on the restricted market.
Teams with the right cap space will assuredly propose hefty offer sheets that Hollis-Jefferson will have no choice but to sign. Brooklyn’s looking at creating an NBA-high $70 million in cap space next summer, and they’ll be looking to make the most of it.
So, they can avoid spending unnecessary figures on Hollis-Jefferson’s next contract, by agreeing to an extension before the offseason begins.
It’ll be one less box to check off of general manager Sean Marks’ to-do list, which will no doubt be a lengthy one.
Reaching the playoffs furthers the Nets as a free agent destination.
Developing D’Angelo Russell helps to solidify Brooklyn’s future.
And an extension for Rondae Hollis-Jefferson makes that future less complicated.
Those goals, if reached, will make for a better Brooklyn future and a better Nets team for the 2018-2019 season.