Let the Recruitment Begin, I am a Fan Free Agent in the NBA.
My fandom in the NBA is up for bids. After 27 years of being a Nets fan, I am seriously thinking of finding a new team to root for in the NBA. To be honest, of the four major sports, the NBA is the league I care least about, which is the reason behind my fluid fandom. I have been a New York Mets fan since Dwight Gooden became a star in his first two seasons. I have been a fan of the Miami Dolphins even longer, rooting for them in the 1982 AFC Championship Game, with A.J. Duhe dominating in the mud. The first time I really followed the NHL was when the New Jersey Devils made their first playoff appearance and reached Game 7 of the Wales Conference Finals.
My NBA fandom has changed over the years. I was a Boston Celtics fan during the Larry Bird era. Not being an avid watcher of the NBA, I liked the Irish connection, and they were always on television. In their battles with Magic Johnson and the Lakers, I began to hate everything about the Lakers. A team that I still despise with every fiber of my being. When Bird retired, I became a Phoenix Suns fan. A big part of the switch was that Danny Ainge was my favorite player and had signed in 1992. At the same time, they had another of my favorite players, Charles Barkley. When Barkley went to Houston and Ainge retired, I was left without a team. Following a mediocre team in Phoenix was hard, especially in the era when the internet was dial-up and just a bunch of chat rooms. So I chose to become a fan of the New Jersey Nets. They were New Jersey's team and were thinking of changing the name to Swamp Dragons. They also had Jayson Williams, a likable personality who made the Nets a fun team.
Over their first two decades in the NBA, the New Jersey Nets were a joke. They had won just one playoff series, as they had an ownership group that lacked direction. The tragic death of Drazen Petrovic had set the franchise back, as Derrick Coleman and Kenny Anderson never developed into the top stars the Nets needed. A turning point came when the Nets hired Rod Thorn as the new General Manager in 2000. For the first time, the Nets had a leader with vision. Kenyon Martin was chosen as the top pick in the 2000 draft. A year later, the Nets swapped Stephon Marbury for Jason Kidd. The acquisition of Kidd made the Nets the top team in the East. The Nets made the NBA Finals in Kidd's first two seasons in New Jersey.
While the Nets were beaten with ease by the Lakers and Spurs in 2002 and 2003, and a chance to return in 2004 ended with heartbreak when the Pistons ousted them in the second round. Vince Carter soon became the face of the Nets, as the core group that led the Nets to the Eastern Conference Championship split up. This was the start of the Nets' descent into mediocrity. It was also a period of instability in ownership. The Nets were to share the Prudential Center with the Devils, but Bruce Ratner, who purchased the team in 2004, had hoped to bring a team to Brooklyn.
While the plans to build an arena in Newark were slowly coming together, the Nets' partnership with the Yankees fell apart. The initial plans for the Prudential Center were scaled back, causing doubt among the Nets' investors. While the Devils moved ahead with the Prudential Center, the Nets, now owned by a Brooklyn real estate magnate, looked to move to Brooklyn. It was never about winning for Ratner. It was about real estate, and the Barclays Center was created to increase the property values that he had owned. Ratner refused to pay for stars during his ownership, and the Nets again became one of the worst teams in the NBA.
The Nets' final years in New Jersey were terrible. After six consecutive playoff appearances, the Nets became a lame duck in New Jersey, playing in the empty Izod Center, which was renovated after the Devils moved into the Prudential Center. With the Nets the last tenant of the Meadowlands Arena, the team and the arena were neglected as the Barclays Center began construction, with 2012 as the moving date. In the 2009/10 season, the Nets matched the worst start in NBA history at 0-18 while posting a franchise-worst 12-70 record. A decision was made that the Nets' final two seasons in New Jersey would be played in Newark, hoping to boost the team's sagging popularity.
When the Nets made the move to Brooklyn, I considered swapping teams. I went to the final game in New Jersey and did not attend a game in Brooklyn for nearly a decade. Bruce Ratner took on JayZ as a partner in the team's ownership as the move to Brooklyn was completed, but this was not enough to break into the Knicks' territory.
As the move was completed, the Nets were sold to Russian Oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov, who proclaimed the Nets would win a championship within five years. This placed pressure on GM Billy King, who made several foolish trades hoping to bring a championship to Brooklyn and break through the Knicks' lock on the city. The Nets acquired veterans Jason Terry, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce from the Celtics and traded four draft picks, two of which were top-three picks, that turned into Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. The Nets made the playoffs twice, and Garnett and Pierce could not get past the second round.
After the five-year plan left the Nets in a state of hopelessness, the Nets were sold again to Joe Tsai. The Nets were slowly emerging from the dark, with a core of role players who played their asses off and made the Nets a fun team to watch. The Nets were in a position to make a big splash and signed Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant.
When the 2020/21 season began, the Nets were ready to win an NBA Championship. They had the stars, but they did not have the coach as Kyrie Irving forced the Nets to fire Kenny Atkinson, which led to the hiring of Steve Nash. Nash had a staff of experienced coaches, including Mark D'Antoni, that first season. Still, Irving's behavior forced the Nets to repeat history as they traded a boatload of picks to the Rockets for James Harden. The trade robbed the Nets of their depth and put them at the mercy of mercurial stars Harden and Irving, who had a history of wrecking teams.
The Nets were inches away from the Eastern Conference Finals, losing Game 7 to the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks. The following season saw the Nets implode as Steve Nash was exposed. James Harden meanwhile forced a trade to the 76ers for the heartless Ben Simmons, while Kyrie Irving fractured the relationship with the team due to his refusal to be vaccinated.
The Nets appeared to be on the road to a rebound season; they had won 18 of 20 under new coach Jacque Vaughn and were in the top three in the East when Kevin Durant suffered a knee injury. This would be the end of the Nets, as Irving forced a trade, leading the Nets to also deal away Durant.
The Nets are a mess, they are unstable, and they do not have the draft capital to improve. Much like the years after the Pierce trade, they are hopeless. The picks they received for Kevin Durant will not be lottery picks. The Nets are also a team that no star will want to sign, and owner Joe Tsai has indicated he will no longer pursue big names, as the Kyrie Irving experience has soured the players and the organization.
The Nets' instability has never been fixed. The move from New Jersey has not worked out. I have dealt with this too long. I should have moved on from the team when they left the Garden State. I just can't deal with a team that has no hope. It is the Knicks' town, and the Nets are on the verge of a long period of losing. It is, for this reason I am becoming a fan free agent.
Can I remain a Nets fan? Yes, but there are several requirements.
1. Sean Marks, the GM, must be fired. He made the foolish trade for James Harden and got nothing in return when he was sent to the Sixers.
2. Joe Tsai must demonstrate a willingness to spend for NBA stars. I will not root for a team that has any good players leaving or cannot sign a big-name player.
3. The Nets must commit to one plan, either rebuild and tear it down to the ground and get every draft pick possible or make a big splash in free agency without further mortgaging the future.
4. Return to New Jersey.
The recruitment has begun, and I will take the remainder of the season and playoffs to access where I will take my fandom, making my decision after the start of the NBA free agency period in July.