This is all for the best.
We’ve entered the buildup before the painful stretch. All season long, the Nets have defied their reputation to make the playoffs. At the outset of the year the people who have stock in the notion of building through the draft, said that the Nets should lay dormant like dead fish so that they could finally make use of their own first round draft pick. They refused. They showed growth. Players made leaps in development. But the stretch at the end of the season looms large, and drinking up the easier wins would be crucial. In that stretch of winnable games, sat the San Antonio Spurs, who are never a joke. But the Spurs were quite tired, and got their asses kicked by the Knicks. On the final stop of their eight game road trip, the Nets absolutely savaged them. The game was never close. Honestly, with that tough win out of the way, the Nets now sit in prime position to go to the playoffs.
And then everything went to hell.
The game itself served as a goodbye. I was set to move the following morning, and my wife was quite pissed that I was spending it at the arena two blocks away as opposed to back home, packing my shit, or at the very least putting our daughter together. It was also Caris LeVert bobble head night. So at the very least I’d be getting something by which to remember this era of my life.
I took the liberty of taking the day off, as did my wife, so that we could make the final preparations before we picked our daughter up from her last afternoon at daycare. I thought it would be nice to go back to The Building on Bond, a small restaurant that would very much jump at the chance to describe itself as “artisinal” that we’d visited on that first morning in our new neighborhood three years ago. Back then The BoB served as an affirmation that we had made a very wise decision. We’d left Manhattan, sure, but we’d come to the right neighborhood. We were in the good place. Our daughter was still in the womb, and we wouldn’t find out her gender for another week. My wife and I were still quite accustomed to that Brunch Lyfe, and finding a spot with a good Eggs Benedict or the right kind of thick bacon was not a want but a need. And I still remember that meal.
But that meal also took place on a Sunday, and apparently the offerings aren’t quite as bountiful at 10 in the morning on a Wednesday. So instead we choked down a pair of breakfast sandwiches while my wife talked too loudly about the Michael Cohen testimony on CNN.
Were I smart enough to see it, this could have been the universes way of letting me know that I had upset it, and that this goodbye was not going to be quite as pleasant as I had hoped. Which brings me to the game. My cousin, who had escorted me to two of these games thus far, was running late. Really late. These are the perils of not living two blocks away from the arena. We would not be part of the first 10,000 fans in attendance to get our very own Caris LeVert bobble head dolls. We would not be at our seats by the time the Nets had built a 10-0 lead. But we would get to see the Wizards go on a 125-106 run, en route to a 9 point victory against the home squad that never felt that close.
We stayed longer than most. The crowd started to thin with two minutes to go. We stayed, because when your team is down you don’t leave until you’re absolutely positive that the comeback isn’t in play. You stay because what would you do if you’d left and found out later that they’d won after all. But they didn’t win, and we bailed with under a minute to go. I had to beat the rush, so that I could wake up one last time in that old neighborhood.
And then it was over. I was leaving. We had made our compromise. A great apartment lay in waiting for us. But there is always a catch. There’s always some compromise. Maybe you have to pay a fortune. Maybe there’s no laundry on site. Maybe you find yourself sleeping in a shoebox, as so many other New Yorkers do. Our new place is great. It just isn’t adjacent to downtown Brooklyn. I woke up early, while my wife and daughter lay asleep an hour before the movers arrived. I took one last trip to Smith Street Bagels. And if there was ever to be any consolation that it was time to leave, I saw it over the horizon, in one flash. One moment of clarity. It was time to leave.
Brooklyn is a funny place. Look toward Manhattan and you will see Manhattan. It’s creeping influence of new money.
Look toward Staten Island, and you will see Staten Island. As we now live in the shadow of the Verrazanno, a new bastardized suburbia has taken over. These are not the suburbs as most cities know them. Houses do not come in cookie cutter form. There is no real HOA dictating the aesthetics of what a neighborhood should be. Brick houses give way to a small row of brownstones. Gaudy McMansions with marble railings border Tudors. Along the water, brick fortresses house the people willing to make the long walk from the R-Train to live in communal comfort. We share a congressman with Staten Island- Max Rose, a Democrat but a centrist, and somebody who will probably be bounced by a Republican as soon as the fury against Donald Trump begins to die down when he is out of offense. But the parking is good for those who drive.
The game against the Hornets was almost an afterthought.
To tell you the truth, my attention was shot. This is crunch time, where every game matters. And yet, my head is adrift. It’s almost as if I know that this is over. That I’m going through the motions. No longer do I see the Barclays Center every day when I go to work. It’s not my subway stop anymore. Seeing Brooklyn Nets swag is more of a rarity. I belong to Staten Island culture now, though I don’t quite know what that is. That said, my apartment is pretty great. Just a shade over three years ago, my wife and I lived in a one bedroom apartment in Hell’s Kitchen. That ended when we had a kid, and I would bet my life that you could fit that entire apartment in my new living room without manipulating the dimensions and without the walls ever touching.
And the tragedy? My spirit animal is back. Spencer Dinwiddie has gone through surgery and rehab and is back to game action. It wasn’t enough. The Nets were outclassed by the hungrier Hornets for their second loss in a row. But unlike their other losses earlier in the year, these were blowouts, where the outcome was decided early in the third quarter. Christ, if I’d wanted to suffer I’d have stuck with the Knicks.
What Did Spencer Dinwiddie Draw on his shoes?
I don’t know. He stopped posting them on Instagram, and I can’t find images. Things are falling apart rapidly.
Now of course there is talk from the fans about how the players have to have a players only meeting. I’ve never truly understood how this can be anything other than not so subtle code that the coaching sucks. I don’t really buy that it’s an effort thing, and I’ve never been on a team that had a players only meeting, but I suspect that it involves a lot of guys talking about how they want to win and pointing to the door when discussing the possibility that others on the team might not want to win as badly. As if one person has ever gotten up off their chair and exited the room. God I would kill to hear that a player did that. There’s a lot of pride on the line. Most of these guys are fighting for their next contract. I’m pretty sure everybody is trying. So it seems to me as though this has to be some indictment on Kenny Atkinson. And I guess that’s fair. When you flatline out of nowhere toward the end of the season, people are going to second guess your approach.
All season long, I’ve played it fairly cool. I’m very hesitant to blame Kenny, because I’ve watched this team play really well, and he does seem to get the best out of his players. Also, I watch basketball like a goober and get about as far into my analysis as “that was a pretty good shot to take.” I don’t see all the little parts moving as they’re drawn up. It’s chaos to me, and a miracle anything ever develops. In some regard, I don’t really want to “know” basketball as much as I just want to enjoy it. So while acknowledging that I am by no means an expert, I do have a few issues that I’d like to broach with Kenny.
First of all, what the fuck’s up with the vocal fry? Hey buddy, you need a lozenge?
Why is your voice cracking worse than a 20 year old co-ed at 1 in the morning, after a bottle and a half of red wine as she breaks out her poetry book? And before anybody suggests that it’s one example after a game of screaming, he sounds like this all the time. Dude, is it medical? Have you really shredded your vocal chords?
And two, Kenny, what’s the deal with Traveon Graham? Traveon Graham missed the first half of the season. In his absence Rodions Kurucs was something of a revelation. A second round pick with tons of energy who did a little bit of everything. And then one day Traveon was back and the starting spot was his. Only it’s been 26 games and Traveon Graham has been absolute shit. At first I thought that it was just half haphazardly administering some faulty eye test, and for a few weeks it just seemed as though I only watched him alternate between bricking and air balling 3 point attempts. But the numbers kind of back up my gut reaction to watching his play. He’s awful.
Let’s get nerdy and look at win share per 48 minutes. Giannis Antetokounmpo leads the league with .285. LeBron James, a journeyman who has fallen off a cliff this season, is 20th at .189. Jarrett Allen has a very respectable .166, D’Angelo Russell has a .096, my spirit animal Spencer Dinwiddie has a .127. Rodions Kurucs has a .064. It’s fine. He’s a rookie who was drafted in the 2nd round. It’s not great. He’s not a world beater. But it’s fine. Meanwhile Treveon Graham is sporting a cool .012 WS/48. That. Is. Shit. He is contributing next to nothing.
Let’s look at Player Efficiency Rating. The baseline for PER is 15. A completely neutral player will in theory produce a score of 15. James Harden and Anthony Davis are tied for the league lead with 30.4. So they’re essentially worth two league average players apiece. Rodions Kurucs is 11.4. So technically below average, but keep in mind, he’s a rookie. This isn’t uncommon. Traveon Graham is 5.3, which again, is terrible. Keep in mind for his entire career he’s an 8, and his best season, a rookie campaign where he played in 27 games, was 10.6, which by my math is less than Rodions’ 11.4.
Again, this isn’t that short of a sample. He’s played in 26 games this year. He’s started 20 of them. Why has he started 20 games? Is he the reason the Nets are failing? Probably not. Does he need to be cut from the team and washed out of the league? That’s probably going a little bit too far. He could probably exist as a bench player who enters during garbage time. But why is he starting when he’s never been good? Is he just the most charismatic man alive? Is he a gym rat who impresses everybody in practice? I’m not suggesting that Kurucs is the chosen one, and I can see an argument for him not starting. He has hit something of a wall of late. But why are these minutes going to Graham? It’s baffling. I don’t get it.
It’s over, folks. This team is dead. For a while earlier on Saturday, before that Heat game started, I thought I’d pronounce their death prematurely, knowing that the Gods would surely punish me by boldly declaring their end with a streak of wins, and run into the playoffs where they would shock the world with a win in the first round. But life is not a movie. This isn’t happening. And they’re not about to be redeemed in the draft either. This team will miss the playoffs by a game and wind up with the last lottery pick. They’ll be better next year (I would imagine), but it’s over. I’m watching them, and if they prove me wrong, I’ll happily admit that I was wrong again. But it doesn’t feel like they’re coming back. It feels like I’m sitting in an emptying arena, waiting to see if a spark can build into an impossible fire, as the time runs out and my cousin asks if we really want to wait this out.
The Brooklyn Nets are 32-33 and in 7th place in the Eastern Conference.