Loyal viewers of "Inside the NBA" on TNT know well that studio analyst and Hall of Fame player Charles Barkley campaigned for Brooklyn Nets guards Spencer Dinwiddie first, and then D’Angelo Russell to make the 2019 NBA All-Star team.
The praise from Sir Charles isn’t limited to Brooklyn’s backcourt talent. Entering All-Star Weekend, Barkley commended head coach Kenny Atkinson and general manager Sean Marks for having the Nets on pace to return to the playoffs for the first time in four years.
“Kenny’s done a fantastic job,” Barkley told amNewYork last Thursday. “Nobody picked the Brooklyn Nets to make the playoffs, so you have to give the coach credit, and Sean Marks I think has done a fantastic job winning and clearing cap space.”
Barkley singled out Atkinson and the Indiana Pacers’ Nate McMillian as doing the best coaching jobs in the league, adding that they should get serious consideration for NBA Coach of the Year.
Still, Barkley won’t let his appreciation for the 30-29 Nets’ relative success this season get out of hand. When asked about the team, currently the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference, potentially winning an opening-round playoff series, the outspoken former league MVP quickly shut down the notion.
“Stop it!” Barkley said, interrupting the question. “They’re not going to go anywhere. They’re not as good as those top four teams in the East. Those top four teams in the East are loaded.”
Three of the current top-five teams — the Milwaukee Bucks (1), Toronto Raptors (2) and Philadelphia 76ers (tied-4) — added talent ahead of the Feb. 7 trade deadline. If the playoffs began today, the Nets would face the Pacers in the first round. The Boston Celtics, tied with the Sixers for fourth, reached the conference final a year ago. The Nets are 7.5 games behind the Boston and Philadelphia, both of whom are 6.5 behind Milwaukee for first.
Despite Marks clearing cap space for the Nets to attract superstars this summer, Barkley seemed uncertain if the Nets would land a big free agent in what Barkley believes is a major milestone for the league.
“This is the most important summer in NBA history coming up,” Barkley said, adding that there could be leaguewide problems if star players only choose to go to big-market teams like New York (Nets and Knicks) or Los Angeles (Lakers and Clippers).