The Chicago Bulls told the world that “72-10 Don’t mean a thing without the ring”; the Golden State Warriors went to five straight finals from 2015-2019, winning three; the Lakers and Celtics shared dominance from the 1950s through the 1980s; yet if the Brooklyn Nets manage to win the 2021 NBA Finals, they will be remembered as the best basketball team ever assembled.
From the 2009-10 to 2018-19 seasons, the Nets were one of the worst franchises in the league. Brooklyn won just over 37% of their games and only won 69 games from 2015-2018: then, suddenly, their fortunes changed.
The 2018-19 season was a breakout one for guard D’Angelo Russell, who was voted into his first All-Star team while a young supporting cast of Caris LeVert, Jarret Allen and Joe Harris began to develop in front of the NBA world’s eyes.
Though Russell would leave the following offseason, the Nets shocked the rest of the Eastern Conference by wooing NBA Champion and six-time All-Star Kyrie Irving, as well as MVP, two-time Finals MVP and 10-time All-Star Kevin Durant.
The pair’s inaugural season in Brooklyn was marked with injury-induced absences, as Durant rehabbed an achilles tear from the year prior while Irving dealt with a shoulder ailment for a majority of the season. The Nets managed to make the playoffs without their superstars but were bounced in the first round.
Brooklyn entered 2021 with serious championship aspirations as Durant and Irving both would be returning at full force— it did not take long for the pair to show their critics that they, and the Nets, were for real.
Both Durant and Irving floated around the MVP conversation for the early parts of the season until sporadic injuries forced each to miss some time, and the team looked vulnerable; that is until Brooklyn traded for another former MVP in James Harden, and they completely took off, finishing the season on a 41-18 run.
As great as the team’s top three players are, the buck does not stop with them. The Nets made a mid-season move for six-time All-Star Blake Griffin to serve as a backup center, reprieving DeAndre Jordan and being deployed in small-ball situations.
Brooklyn also houses the NBA’s most efficient three-point shooter, Joe Harris, who scored 14.1 points per game this season while maintaining a standard of 47.5% from beyond the arc. Jeff Green is also a key component for the Nets, providing veteran play and consistent scoring as a stretch four.
If you add up Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving’s career averages, you are left with 74.9 points, 19.5 assists and 16.4 rebounds; this includes their early seasons when they were not the focal points of their teams.
Durant and Harden are both thought to be in the conversation for best scorers of all time, while Irving is regarded as having the best handle and finishes around the rim ever. All three are exceptional three-point and free-throw shooters and have won in multiple locales.
Durant and Harden have both won league MVP honors while Kyrie Irving hit one of the greatest shots in playoff history, rivaled only by Ray Allen’s game-tying three in Game Six of the 2013 NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs, and Durant himself has won two Finals MVPs.
Durant has won the NBA scoring title four times to Harden’s three, though Harden led the league in assists in 2016-17.
All-in-all, the Brooklyn Nets’ roster boasts three NBA Championships, 34 all-star appearances, two MVPs, a three-point shootout champion, a rebounding leader, a multi-time Slam Dunk Contest champion, and a partridge in a pear tree.
Comparisons to Other Greats
The 1995-96 Chicago Bulls are regarded by most basketball historians as the best team ever. They went 72-10 during the regular season and defeated the Utah Jazz 4-2 in the Finals to win the second championship of their second three-peat. The Bulls featured Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Toni Kukoc, Ron Harper and Steve Kerr, among others.
The 2016-17 Golden State Warriors are another historic team that wreaked havoc on the league, going “bombs away” with Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant, and leaving Draymond Green to anchor the interior. The Warriors finished the regular season 67-15 and swept their way through the Western Conference until they reached the NBA Finals, where they disposed of the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers in five games.
The 1985-86 Boston Celtics were another force to be reckoned with, rolling out a lineup that included Larry Bird, Bill Walton, Robert Parish and Kevin McHale. Boston won, like Golden State, 67 games in the regular season, and only dropped three contests in the entire postseason.
Magic Johnson and the rest of the 1986-87 Los Angeles Lakers defeated Bird’s crew in the next season, with Magic earning Finals MVP honors. His running mate, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, is the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, and James Worthy, Byron Scott, A.C. Green and Michael Cooper were stars in their roles.
A fifth and final competitor with the Nets is the 1970-71 Milwaukee Bucks, who boasted a much younger Kareem, along with former MVP Oscar Robertson. The Bucks pulled off a clean sweep over their finals opponent, the Baltimore Bullets, as the three-headed monster that was Jabbar, Robertson and Bob Dandridge proved to be far superior to Wes Unseld and the Bullets.
How Do the Nets Reach “GOAT” Status
Simply put, by winning. If Durant and Irving transform the Nets from a laughingstock to NBA Champions in their first season together (Durant did not appear in 2019-20) and with several mid-season acquisitions and trades, there will be nothing that can question them.
None of Brooklyn’s “Big Three” are in the younger half of their playing career, so their chances at forming a dynasty are rather slim— but they will be major players for at least two more years, meaning that they may have the chance to three-peat as champions, assuming they conquer the first challenge and win this year’s title.
No team has ever been more talented than Brooklyn is, and that is why they are the best team ever.