By: Taylor Odenat
Prior to the 2017-18 NBA season, the Cleveland Cavaliers completed a trade with the Boston Celtics, shipping one of their franchise cornerstones in Kyrie Irving in exchange for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the Brooklyn Nets first-round pick in the 2018 draft. As the All-Star Break approaches, the Cavaliers find themselves on the wrong side of the trade, falling behind the Celtics, who sit atop of the East.
Before Thursday’s trade activities, the Cavaliers were experiencing an extreme dry spell, as poor performances, a lack of chemistry, and injuries hampered the team. Crowder failed to maintain his performance levels in Boston, Zizic was logging a whopping total of 41 minutes off the bench, while Thomas struggled to shake off the hip injury that plagued him earlier in the season. As a result, Crowder and Thomas were unloaded to the Utah Jazz and the Los Angeles Lakers respectively.
With the pieces of the Irving trade failing to make the grade, the Cavaliers had a silver lining with the 2018 unprotected first-round pick originally owned by the Nets. With a roster comprising of just three players with six years of league experience or more, and a new head coach finding his feet, it was presumed that Brooklyn would struggle heavily in a tough Eastern Conference, landing the Cavaliers with a potential high pick.
As the NBA All-Star Weekend approaches, the Nets find themselves trying to displace this preseason sentiment of finishing as a lottery team. Head Coach Kenny Atkinson has suffered a multitude of injuries to his lineup, including major losses to back-court mates Jeremy Lin and D’Angelo Russell. Lin will be sidelined for the second half of the season due to a ruptured patella tendon, while Russell has begun to work himself back into the flow of the offense. Despite missing these key pieces, the Nets are currently 19-37, thirteenth in the Eastern Conference, and average nearly 12 threes made per game, good for third in the NBA.
Although these numbers may not be mind-blowing, they paint a bigger picture. Two teams presently rank below the Nets in the Eastern Conference, while four teams rank below them in the Western Conference. Additionally, the New York Knicks are forced to finish out the final 27 games without their franchise superstar Kristaps Porzingis, following his torn ACL diagnosis. As the Nets welcome back their own vital offensive option in Russell, they could potentially leapfrog the Knicks and other struggling teams above them.
In Russell’s absence, fourth-year guard Spencer Dinwiddie has been able to hold down the fort as the main ball handler and playmaker for the Nets, contributing to big wins over Miami, Philadelphia and Minnesota, and keeping the Nets hovering above a lottery spot.
Because of their young core, the Nets are far from being a franchise primed for a postseason push. Nonetheless, if Brooklyn can finish in the middle of the pack in the East, they could strip away the value of their once-held pick. If the newly reinforced Cavaliers fail to make a deep run in the playoffs or are unable to retain the services of leading scorer LeBron James in the off-season, a potential high first-round pick would be necessary to reload one of the Eastern Conference’s top teams. The higher pick would mean adding a top prospect into the lineup, or serve as a valuable trade piece in a potential deal to join (or replace) LeBron in Cleveland. Due to these potential implications in the off-season, the Cavaliers will be keeping a watchful eye on the performances of the Nets over the course of the following months.