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Nets Searching For Something to Play For as Season Winds Down

This was not supposed to be a successful season for the Brooklyn Nets by any stretch of the imagination. Injuries, roster turnover, a change at head coach and general manager are just a few of the things that make it painfully obvious that the Nets are a rebuilding team.

In the past month, the team bought out the contract of veteran Joe Johnson, and embarked on a franchise-high nine-game road trip in which they finished just 3-6.  Back-to-back losses in Los Angeles and a stinker last Friday night against the Philadelphia 76ers were signs of a team that is just waiting for the season to end.

The Nets returned home Sunday to face a Milwaukee Bucks team that is also struggling this season after lofty training camp expectations.  It was a winnable game for Brooklyn, but Giannis Antetokounmpo had a different result in mind.  The Greek Freak posted a triple-double as the Bucks disposed of the Nets late, dropping their overall record to 18-48.

There are now 16 games remaining in the regular season.  The Nets are days away from officially being eliminated from playoff contention for the first time since they moved to Brooklyn from New Jersey.  That leaves one question: What is left for them to play for?

Believe it or not, there are several reasons why the Nets should continue to play hard each and every night.  First and foremost, two-thirds of the current roster are playing for their NBA lives.  Aside from Brook Lopez, Thaddeus Young, Bojan Bogdanovic, and rookies Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Chris McCullough, everyone else is not guaranteed to be on the Nets’ roster next season, let alone an NBA one.  Shane Larkin, Thomas Robinson, Wayne Ellington and Sergey Karasev were all given up on by the teams that drafted them, and could be at the end of the line as far as their NBA careers are concerned.  Each of the guys mentioned in the previous sentence have had their moments for the Nets this season, but none have done enough to be viewed as a part of the team’s future.

Donald Sloan was signed to be the third-string point guard, behind Jarrett Jack and Larkin.  Jack tore his ACL in January, and Sloan has vaulted past Larkin into the starting lineup.  He has played reasonably well and is considered a marginal rotation player at best on a contending NBA team.  Jack has most likely played his final game in a Nets uniform.  Once he fully recovers from his injury, he will most likely be looking for a job elsewhere.

Developing the young players on the roster is crucial for new general manager Sean Marks. He made his first player addition since taking the job, signing shooting guard Sean Kilpatrick to a 10-day contract two weeks ago.  He has already morphed into an important rotation piece for this year’s Nets team.  He is currently on his second 10-day contract, and has averaged 13.6 points over his past five games.  The New York native will likely stick around with the Nets for the remainder of this season and beyond.  Hopefully, this is one of the many talented players Marks will bring to Brooklyn.

Hollis-Jefferson and McCullough have both battled through injuries during their rookie seasons, and have yet to take the floor together. Both have shown flashes so far, but they need more time to fully develop their games.  They will be crucial building blocks for the Nets going forward.  Third-year guard Markel Brown will be a restricted free agent this summer.  He was buried on the bench while Lionel Hollins was the head coach.  Since he was fired, Brown has excelled under interim head coach Tony Brown.  I believe the Nets will do everything they can to resign Brown and keep him as a part of the team’s young core.

Speaking of Tony Brown, he is out to prove that he can be a permanent head coach in the league.  Brooklyn has picked up the pace offensively since Brown took the coaching reigns, and their three-point shooting has vastly improved during that time.  The players seem to genuinely enjoy playing for him, and he is giving the young guys their fair share of time on the court.  Even if the Nets don’t retain him after the season, which is highly unlikely, Brown has to keep coaching as if his career depends on it, because it does.

Last but not least, the Nets have to try and win as many basketball games as they possibly can.  Their 2016 first-round draft pick belongs to the Boston Celtics, and the more the Nets lose, that pick gains even greater value.  As things stand right now, that pick could be in the top five, but the Nets won’t be thrilled if they manage to land the No. 1 overall selection and have to give it to a division rival, who is already pretty darn good.

The Nets return to action on Tuesday night, taking on the 76ers at home.

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Jason Goldstein is a co host of the Baseline Jumper NBA podcast, recording every Tuesday night along Ben McDonald. Jason has also spent time as the Basketball Editor at while also handling the Brooklyn Nets Lead Writer duties since October 2015.
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