With those three words, the late Notorious B.I.G reestablished the most populous borough in New York City as the capital of hip hop. In that same vein, recording-artist turned mogul and minority-owner, Sean Carter (a.k.a Jay Z) attempted to make Brooklyn the mecca of basketball, by bringing an underwhelming New Jersey Nets franchise from the swamps of East Rutherford, and housing them in a Brooklyn arena that could be considered a palace compared to most.
Since 2012, the Nets have called The Barclay’s Center home, and clad in Black and White, have challenged the long-established New York Knickerbockers for entertainment dollars, as well as the hearts of hoop-fans hungry for winning basketball. Though Mr. Carter has divested, and removed himself from the picture (selling his 0.067% of the Nets to Jason Kidd), his influence can be felt at every home game, as his songs play loudly during most dead-ball situations, and his voice can be heard over the public address urging the crowd during others.
Since May 2010, the team’s majority-owner (80%) has been Russian-billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, who brazenly declared upon his arrival, that he expected to win a championship in a “maximum (of) five years” during a video message to fans. He’s proven that money is no object, while allowing Nets GM Billy King the ability to construct a roster of highly-paid veterans with the express purpose of making that declaration a reality. It’s year-four of Mr. Prokhorov’s five-year plan, and the pressure is on to deliver.
This past offseason, King added all-stars Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry and Andrei Kirilenko to a core consisting of oft-injured point guard Deron Williams, a classic-style center in Brooke Lopez, and sometimes off/sometimes on shooting guard Joe Johnson, in an effort to put the Nets in contention for an NBA title right away. To lead this group of established NBAers, the Nets hired recently retired point guard, and sure-fire Hall of Famer, Jason Kidd. Considered a risky move by many in and around basketball, the Nets seemed confident the former floor-general was the right man to guide this team toward the Promised Land!
The hiring of former Nets head coach Lawrence Frank as Kidd’s top-assistant appeared to quiet some doubters. Bringing Frank onboard appeared to legitimize the hiring of Kidd, as he was Kidd’s head coach from 2004-2008, and they seemed to have a great relationship. It’s been reported that Kidd was the one who wooed Frank to Brooklyn over a spot on the bench in Los Angeles next to Doc Rivers as he guides the Clippers in his first year as their head coach. Frank’s past relationships with Garnett and Pierce (assistant coach w/ the Boston Celtics in the 2010-2011 season), in conjunction with the respect Kidd would garner from the leaders in that locker room, seemed like the perfect mix for this group of hired-guns. Prognosticators ignored the team’s age, and Kidd’s inexperience as a coach, picking Brooklyn as a beast in the NBA’s Eastern Conference.
This season started with Kidd missing the first two games while he served a league-issued suspension stemming from a one-car accident he was involved in prior to the start of last season. Coach Frank filled in and guided the team to a 1-1 record, dropping the opener in Cleveland 98-94, but securing an incredible 101-100 win over the Miami Heat to open the Barclay’s Center on November 3rd. What a difference a month makes! On December 3rd, and prior to the team’s 111-87 loss to the Denver Nuggets (the first of back-to-back 30+ point loses), Lawrence Frank was “reassigned” as Kidd put it, and would no longer be on the bench during games or at practices. “This is the decision that I had to make, and we made it and we move on,” Kidd told reporters. “This is my decision in the sense of what I had to do,” Kidd continued, citing differences in philosophy, “It’s about basketball. That’s it.”
Speaking of basketball, the Nets got off to a miserable 5-14 start, dealing with multiple player injuries, including games where four-of-five starters were unable to dress. The fallout between Kidd and Frank, coupled with the team’s inability to consistently field a healthy team, turned the early part of a once-promising season into a survive-at-all-cost campaign late. With rumors of his job on the line, Kidd led this group of men through the tumult of those early season woes, and somehow convinced this team there was still a season left to salvage.
It would’ve been easy for an owner who wants to win now, wealthy checkbook in hand, to cut ties with Kidd while the season was young, but after a resurgence in January (and NBA Coach of the Month honors for Kidd), the Brooklyn Nets look like a team that can challenge the Toronto Raptors (yes… the 28-24 Raptors) for the Atlantic Division. It’ll be interesting to see, with 31 games left in the regular season, where the Nets end up. They exit the break on a six-game west coast road trip that includes games against the Warriors (31-22) and the Trail Blazers (36-17) before a home tilt against the Bulls (27-25).
It’s also hard to judge a team’s success or failure when you have yet to see the projected team on the court together and healthy. It’s hard to see if it might’ve been too much, too fast for a head coach who found himself in shorts and sneakers on an NBA court just months before. An owner’s patience gave Kidd the opportunity to show he had what it took to translate his on-court leadership and ability as a player into the tactician and sideline-general his troops needed to battle through and overcome the deficit they dug for themselves. If I may borrow a phrase from one of the most influential artists of the last 25-30 years, “Where Brooklyn at?” As of the All-Star break, they’re 24-27 record has them contending for the Atlantic… and has them on the verge of taking the town (if only for a season) from the struggling 20-32 New York Knicks.