Brooklyn Nets navigate championship-or-bust territory

Published March 31, 2021, 8:00 AMJon Carlos Rodriguez

It was already championship or bust for the Nets when James Harden formed a Big 3 with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. What more now that they acquired Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge?

LaMarcus Aldridge, a seven-time All-Star, is the latest big name to join the Brooklyn Nets and, to some, it was earth-shattering.

Not quite Thanos’ snap levels, but enough to cause a ripple in the league and beyond. The common reaction: “It’s not fair.” Another theme: “All this to beat a 36-year-old.” One more: *mindblown emoji*.

Starting off with two-time Finals MVP Kevin Durant, NBA champion Kyrie Irving, and former Lob City Vice Mayor DeAndre Jordan, the Nets have since added former MVP James Harden and very recently, six-time All-Star Blake Griffin. Add Aldridge—whose name when laid out next to the others does appear like the sixth Infinity Stone—and you’ll get a total of 41 All-Star appearances among them. That’s a lot. 

But does it matter?

In his last 15 years in the league, Aldridge has been the steady, reliable guy who averaged 19.4 points and 8.3 rebounds. But this season with the San Antonio Spurs, those numbers dipped to 13.7 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. There were still highs, like when he scored 28 points on 11-of-18 shooting in a win against the Los Angeles Lakers. But there were new lows, like when he scored four points on 2-of-8 shooting in a loss against the Golden State Warriors. Then there were the super, super lows, like when he hit two free throws for his only points in his last game as a Spur (against the Nets, of course).

LaMarcus’ current season numbers are identical to Blake’s 12.3 points and 5.2 rebounds per game with Detroit, way off his career averages of 21.3 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. Detroit Blake had that cringeworthy vibe of a talented actor miscast in a role in a very bad movie. Which is why it just made sense that in his new role as a Net, in his first shining moment, he dunked! It’s something he used to do in his sleep, but for some strange reason, he stopped doing in Detroit.

Brooklyn Blake already broke through with a vintage 17-point game (against the Pistons, of course) and Aldridge will surely have his moments in Brooklyn, but 35-year-old Aldridge and 32-year-old Griffin are just not the same All-Star versions of Aldridge and Griffin who were making the big plays in Portland/San Antonio and LA, respectively. They’re now two, weary vets fighting for minutes in a very crowded Nets frontcourt.

To recap, this is how the bigs look like in Brooklyn: Jordan, Griffin, Aldridge, Jeff Green, and Nic Claxton. Add Kevin Durant into the mix once he’s healthy.

Offensively—with the firepower of Irving, Harden, and Joe Harris—this Nets team is top-tier, video-game-level fun. If they keep this up, this Nets team will end up with the most efficient offense in NBA history. On the opposite side of the court though, there are some issues. 

Brooklyn is no doubt preparing for a deep playoff run where they might clash with teams like the Philadelphia 76ers in the East and the defending champs Lakers in the West. Who will stop the Joel Embiids and the Anthony Davises of the playoffs?

The Nets still have a bit of time to figure it out, and are expected to try different combinations to unlock the potential of having all these talents—surging or otherwise—on one roster. They have the time, the manpower, and a Kevin Durant waiting in the wings. They have underrated shock troopers in Claxton, Harris, Alize Johnson, and Bruce Brown. 

The only thing stopping them from going all the way to the Finals is themselves. That’s admittedly a cop-out thing to say, but it’s true once you enter championship-or-bust territory. The Nets did that the moment they rostered KD and Kyrie, and it further gained ground with every new acquisition. More big names, more pressure.
What’s being highlighted with the stacked Nets roster is the number of All-Star Games their stars appeared in. While that is scary, what’s really going to trigger scary hours is when we begin highlighting the number of championships these big names in the Nets have won. Between Harden, Griffin, Jordan, Aldridge, and the others, including their head coach Steve Nash, there aren’t any. 

What they have are a lot of heartbreaking playoff scars. That’s scarier.