Pain in the ProgressThe date is Dec 18, 2018 in Brooklyn, NY at Barclays Center with 26 seconds remaining in the game and the current score: Lakers 107, Nets 110. D’Angelo Russell, with his usual smooth swagger as he dribbles the ball between his legs glancing up at the shot clock. These moments right here are what D’Angelo Russell plays for. Russell knows what is about to happen, along with the nine other players on the court. As a few more seconds tick off the clock, Russell pulls up for a smooth 3 point shot without any hesitation…..BANG! D’ANGELO RUSSELL WITH THE DAGGER!
It was at this moment, I had an overwhelming feeling that D’Angelo Russell was finally becoming what we had all hoped for. That Russell had overcame the external doubt if he could reach his potential, or the negative press associated with him. Russell was showing he is winner, a team player, and on his way to becoming a star. Since the trade that brought Russell to the Brooklyn Nets, I have always hoped Russell would become the star player that the Nets have lacked since Jason Kidd was the point guard for the franchise. I can’t pinpoint why this play against the Lakers felt particularly special, maybe due to it being against the exact team who sent him to Brooklyn, maybe because Lebron James was on the other side, or the iconic “ICE IN MY VEINS” celebration that followed. I can’t necessarily put my finger on it. But it was in this moment that I felt that D’Angelo might be “turning the corner”.
As a Nets fan, you build accustom to getting your hopes up and building excitement, only to have it all come crashing down in your face. Have you by chance heard of the trade with Celtics? If not, go look it up… Dark times my friends, dark times. I say this, because even after having such confidence in Russell after this game, I could not help but remain skeptical with concerns of this game just being an outlier and could not be held consistently. I needed MORE to believe in. Need more to believe in? Checkmate, welcome to January 2019:
January 14th: 34 points (7 – 3pt FGM) | 7 assist | 5 rebounds
January 18th: 40 points (8 – 3pt FGM) | 7assist
D’Angelo started the first month of 2019 averaging 24 points and 7 assists on 45.5% shooting and 39.3% from 3 point territory. Now, NOWWW I was believing. I was now full out drinking the D’Angelo Russell Kool-Aid. I was all in for everything D’Angelo Russell. All Star game? He better be there. Most Improved Award? Deserving to be in the conversation. I started going into every game just waiting to see what quarter it would be that Russell would get hot from three and just set the court on fire for that quarter. More often, he were not disappointed in this regard. The cherry on top of it all was the 28 point comeback against the Sacramento Kings. There was no game winner from Russell (thank you Rondae), but we did get to witness a 44 point performance with Russell leading the way. That game alone was special and shown the toughness of the Brooklyn Nets as a whole.
So now that we are all reminiscing on the season the Brooklyn Nets had, and specifically D’Angelo Russell, I do this to remind all of us Nets fans of how special of a season we just got to witness this franchise have. This past season was everything a fan would hope for when their team is trying to climb their way out of being a franchise laughing stock. Every quarter that Russell had an explosive quarter. Dinwiddie lit it up off the bench, Joe Harris became one of the best 3 point shooters in the league, Jarrett Allen continued to grow. And finally, Caris Levert rounded back out to full form towards the end of the season. The league was put on notice.
And now….here we are. Free Agency is right within reach. The rumors are flying mad with names such as Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Tobias Harris, Jimmy Butler, and even tricklings of Kristaps Porzingis possibly taking meetings with the Nets organization. No one really knows what is going to happen this summer. Even Coach Kenny Atkinson himself has admitted there will be a very different roster next season. And at the height of it all, is a large possibility the Nets enter next season without the player who was a focal point of such a turnaround season: D’Angelo Russell.
In the world of Twitter, the Brooklyn Nets fanbase is in mass disarray at the though of the Nets letting Russell go this summer. How could we let go the player who lead this team’s turnaround and embodied everything Brooklyn has been building? With rumors that Brooklyn is being heavily favored for Kyrie Irving, fans find it hard to wrap their heads around the idea of letting 23 year old Russell go, for 27 year old Irving who has been slammed in Boston for his leadership skills (or lack thereof) with their young team. Fans fear we have Sean Marks making a Billy King-esque move with trying to bring in Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant coming off a torn Achilles. I will agree, there is reason to doubt. There is reason to fear these moves. Like I said before, remember the Boston trade? Any big step towards possible contention for Nets fans comes with a side order of anxiety.
But remind me, did the Raptors just win a title running back the same squad that had them ranked high in the east year after year? It came out of a tough and highly criticized move in trading DeMar DeRozan for Kawhi Leonard. The same Kawhi Leonard who sat out for a season and was criticized for his role as a teammate on the Spurs towards the end of his tenure. Not looking so bad now. And no, that is not to say that is now the new blue print to a championship in this league. But, what we have been shown over and over in this league, that there is so many ways to build a contender in this league. It takes tough decisions. It was a fun and amazing season for the Nets this past year essentially playing with house money when no one expected much from them. Exceeding expectations is fun.
But now there are expectations. The Nets are now a playoff team. Big name players are supposed to be considering the Nets as their next team to represent. The Nets are now expected to land a superstar or two. We are in a whole different world than we were 3 seasons ago. A team competing for a championship comes with a whole different level of expectations that the Nets are attempting to steep themselves into.
And with that, comes tough decisions.
And as much as we all loved the season this team just had and all loved to watch Russell and the team as a whole blossom in front of our eyes, when you have championship caliber players knocking on your door, you answer. I think we can all agree that if we lose D’Angelo Russell this summer that it will be a tough blow to the fan base.
But for a franchise trying to enter the championship conversation, you must take the opportunity when it is available. With a summer full of big name free agents considering calling Brooklyn their home, it is safe to say the opportunity is no doubt available now. We have spent quite a few seasons believing and trusting the moves Sean Marks has made (In Marks We Trust, shout out @Flatbushandatlantic), so let’s continue to trust this franchise until proven otherwise. We have heard the world culture used over and over. Why not test it? See if Irving can become a product of his environment, the environment that Marks has preached on building for years now. We can have doubts and be critical. But let’s not go burn down the city and lose our minds…yet.
If this all backfires in a year or two, I will grab the pitch forks with you. But for the time being, let’s take in the moment that in such a short time this team has went from franchise laughing stock to now in the conversation with Kyrie Irving and possibly Kevin freakin Durant. It was a fun breakout year for this young team, but it’s time we all saddle up and prepare for the attempt of making the next step: Championship Contender. We didn’t mortgage our entire future to get here, so I would say we are in a much more comfortable position this time around.
It would hurt to see D’Angelo Russell leave Brooklyn this summer. But, with pain comes growth. See you all on the other side of Free Agency.
- Tyler Minks