The Nets almost certainly can’t deliver a championship to their fans this season. What they can give them is a team that’s at least happy to be in Brooklyn, rather than a group of individuals with one foot out the door.
“I would say I’m excited,” Nets team owner Joe Tsai told The Post of this upcoming season. “I’m excited about the season because we have a group of guys that are excited to be in Brooklyn. Yeah, that’s what I see now.”
Brooklyn’s bar has been lowered after all three of their superstars requested trades out of town.
How things went so awry has been oft-recounted.
After years of title aspirations, James Harden tired of Kyrie Irving and requested a move to Philadelphia at the 2022 trade deadline. (How that ends up working out for the 76ers remains to be seem, with Harden now wanting another trade).
Then between Irving’s trade demand and Ben Simmons’ unavailability (due to a bad back and mental health woes) had Kevin Durant feeling like the last man standing, his exit in February shutting the Nets’ championship window.
But it opened the door for a reset.
They got a trove of draft picks if (make that when) they decide to go star-hunting again, and Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson as the foundation of their new core. Simmons, if healthy, would join that duo.
This Nets team doesn’t have the championship-or-bust pressure of years past. The goalposts have been moved. What they have is a chance to develop together without that burden on their shoulders. At least, not for 2023-24.
“I think it’s an opportunity for us to grow and get better,” Johnson said. “We’ve got a great team around us. And very versatile. A group that’s very versatile with a lot of size and a lot of unique opportunities to play that way.”
Two seasons ago, the Nets went into training camp with the looming specter of Irving’s unavailability thanks to his COVID-19 vaccine refusal that cost him two-thirds of the campaign. A year ago, it was worry over Durant’s offseason trade demand, one that he eventually reiterated when Irving forced his way out.
The Nets open camp Tuesday with less high-end talent, and also less drama.
Bridges and Johnson — the so-called “Twins” — have brought a positive vibe and given Simmons much-needed encouragement. Simmons is fully cleared for 5-on-5 following his back woes, and multiple specialists told The Post his nerve should be fully regenerated from his May 2022 surgery by November.
After some significant voices in the Nets’ locker room had lost patience with Simmons last season, it’s noteworthy that his relationship with Vaughn is in a better place and the always-positive Twins have been supportive. The only All-Star on the roster, he could take Brooklyn from a play-in team to a playoff one.
“Mikal [is] special, when you’re talking about creating an environment, a community, a co-op, everyone doing their part,” coach Jacque Vaughn said. “He is the quintessential president of the co-op.”