BROOKLYN — The Nets will have another long offseason to try and decipher where to take the franchise after a rollercoaster season that ended in the first round yet again. The Philadelphia 76ers made sure of that on Saturday afternoon with a 96-88 victory in Game 4, and now the focus in Kings County turns to Sean Marks during another crucial period.
The Nets lack a superstar, which became clear as the series with the Sixers went on, but the pieces are there for Marks to start building a team that can be competitive next year and moving forward.
Mikal Bridges developed into a star after he was traded to Brooklyn and became the focus of the Sixers’ defense during the playoffs. Cam Johnson proved to be an equally valuable piece, averaging 21.0 points in the first three games of the series and shot 57% from the field, along with 50% from three-point range.
Even Nic Claxton had a year where he should have been in the conversation for defensive player of the year. The center took the bull by the horns and went toe-to-toe with Joel Embiid during the postseason.
“A lot of growth from him, more to come, but to see him from beginning to end. A lot of credit to him,” Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn said.
And the Nets as a group battled through a year that saw some of the most drastic changes for the organization in quite some time. They dealt two NBA superstars in Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving at the trade deadline and had to develop chemistry among a new starting rotation on the fly.
“It’s been a crazy season. I can’t tell you that enough,” Johnson said after the series loss. “Tried to merge basically three teams into one starting lineup in February. And that presents a unique set of challenges. And we tried to fight through them, I think we did and I’m proud of the group for doing them and sticking together. There was no friction. Everybody did their best to be on the same page. I’m proud of the group for that and I think he is too. It’s setting the foundation for what we can build.”
The first-round series certainly seemed like a learning experience for the Nets, who struggled to play their brand of basketball for a full game and struggled to knock down shots. It also seemed to take a toll on the likes of Bridges, who was racking up 35.7 minutes a game during the regular season and saw that increase in the postseason to 39.7 in the first three games.
Bridges wasn’t looking to use his high volume of minutes as an excuse for his play in the postseason, saying after the game that he felt like “I’ve been letting my team down.” But the big takeaway as he sat at the podium looking back at the series was learning to be the team’s No. 1 player.
“Even if you don’t get a couple of shots up, if you feel like you’ve not been getting those attempts, to still try to find the right play besides just jacking one just to get one up. I think I just learned, just for everybody out there, change happens,” Bridges said. “You know, change ain’t fun, change is tough, just in life in general. And just, what are you going to do about it? I think we just, we came in, everybody got traded, you know, different team, different look. And we gave it all we got.”
There is sure to be plenty of reflection over the coming weeks and months will do a lot of examining of what he needs to do with his team. But despite the chaotic year, the Nets have some pieces in place to move forward with.