The Nets of 2016 are not expected by many to make the playoffs, and are more focused on preparing for the next great Nets team than they are focused on success this season.
In the past, the Nets have had a number of years where their roster was one of the most interesting in the league. The Nets have made two NBA Finals and won two championships in the ABA, and they had a few must-watch teams in their past.
Here 's a rundown of the five best Nets teams ever.
The 2013-2014 roster checks in at #5, even though they dramatically underperformed in comparison to their expectations. They added future Hall of Famers Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to replace Gerald Wallace and Reggie Evans for a team that had won 49 games in the 2012-2013 season. Brook Lopez had just been named to the All-Star team for the first time, and Deron Williams posted 22.9 points and 8.0 assists per game after the All-Star break. The starting five of Williams, Joe Johnson, Garnett, Pierce and Lopez appeared to be one of the strongest starting lineups in the league, and Brooklyn appeared poised to make a run deep into the playoffs.
Sadly, it was not meant to be for Brooklyn. Lopez played in just 17 games and Williams had his worst statistical season since his rookie year after being bogged down by injuries. Kevin Garnett's offense fell off a cliff as he posted less than half of his point total from the prior year in Boston. While Garnett was still effective defensively, he barely resembled the game-changing force he embodied in Boston. Pierce's point totals also dropped five points per game in the move from Brooklyn to Boston. Only Joe Johnson managed to meet his expectations as he made the All-Star game, but even Johnson's points per game average declined in comparison to his 2012-2013 season.
The Nets managed to defeat Toronto 4-3 in their first-round matchup but lost to the eventual Eastern Conference Champion winning Miami Heat in five games. The 2013-2014 Nets were undoubtedly disappointing, and the future assets they gave up to acquire Garnett and Pierce will haunt them in the years to come. However, that squad could have weathered even the precipitous declines from Garnett and Pierce if Deron Williams and Brook Lopez had managed to avoid injuries. The Nets 2013-2014 will be one of the franchises' greatest "what if?" questions for years to come.
The first of the two Jason Kidd-led Nets teams to reach the Finals, the 2001-2002 edition was swept in the Finals by the last of the Shaq-Kobe Lakers championship teams. Many fans at the time saw the Western Conference Finals as the real Finals that year, as the Lakers waged an epic battle — fraught with controversy — against Chris Webber and the Sacramento Kings, while the Nets did not face a single 50-win team on their way to the Finals.
Still, the relative strength of the Western Conference and the eventual Lakers sweep does not do justice to a scrappy Nets team that played remarkably effective team basketball. The Nets led the league in Defensive Rating, and Kidd distributed the ball beautifully for a team who did not have anyone average more than 15 points per game — Kenyon Martin scored 14.9 points per game. The Eastern Conference may not have been as strong as the West, but the Nets nonetheless led the conference in wins during the regular season and did what they needed to do en route to the Finals.
Although the 2001-2002 team won more games (52 versus 49 in 2002-2003), the 2002-2003 squad had a better-predicted record by virtue of their higher point differential — a Pythagorean win prediction of 56 versus 53 from the year before. The Nets once again led the league in Defensive Rating. Richard Jefferson replaced Keith Van Horn in the starting lineup and improved dramatically from his performance the year before. Kidd also improved both his scoring and his efficiency from the year before, and the Nets only lost two games in the Eastern Conference Playoffs as they cruised into the Finals.
The Nets fell to San Antonio in six games and were far more competitive in that series than they had been against the Lakers the year before. The Finals were a defensive slugfest with neither team averaging more than 90 points per game. The Finals featured only one 100-point performance with the Spurs winning 101-89 in Game 1. Although the Nets were unable to secure an NBA title, the 2002-2003 edition nearly rode their #1 defense to a championship.
The Nets never managed to secure an NBA title, but they did manage to secure two ABA titles behind superstar Julius Erving. Erving's biggest claim to fame from the 1976 season may have been the fabled 1976 Slam Dunk Contest, which Dr. J won with a free throw line dunk. Still, talking about Erving as purely a showman and ludicrous athlete would not do justice to his leadership and strong team play. He won the ABA MVP and was named to the ABA First Team as well as the All-Defense 1st Team, and the Nets finished second in the ABA with a 55-29 record.
The Nets snuck past the San Antonio Spurs led by George Gervin and former Net Larry Kenon in a 4-3 first round matchup. The Nets were actually outscored in the series overall, but Erving led the Nets to the Finals with a scoring average of 32.1 points per game. The Nets then topped the Denver Nuggets and rising star David Thompson — who had also placed second in that year's Dunk Contest — in a 4-2 Finals matchup that served as a battleground for the ABA's two biggest stars. Thompson poured in 28.3 points per game but could not overcome Erving. Erving, in turn, put up 37.7 points per game and also led the series in rebounding. Erving put on a masterful display in the Finals, but the team overall was not the strongest in Nets history.
The 1975-1976 season may be the most fabled Dr. J season due to his Slam Dunk contest performance, but the Nets championship squad he headlined two years prior was a better team overall. Erving and fellow All-Star Larry Kenon led the Nets to a 55-29 record that led the ABA. The team was first in Defensive Rating, and Erving won the ABA MVP and made his way onto the First Team All-ABA squad.
The 1973-1974 Nets edge out the 1975-1976 edition because of their playoff dominance. Despite playing an additional round during the playoffs — three rounds instead of only two in the 1975-1976 playoffs — the Nets only lost two games in their run to the championship. They dropped one game to the Virginia Squires in the opening round and one game to the Utah Stars in the championship game. Dr. J's two title teams pace led the Nets in the all-time rankings, and it would not be a crime to say that the historical importance of the 1976 Dunk Contest and the battles with Gervin and Thompson could give the edge to the 1975-1976 Nets squad. However, the stronger playoff performance of the 1973-1974 team should not be ignored, and in the end that playoff margin is what makes them my winner for the greatest Nets squad ever.