Count Ian Eagle among the skeptics about the Nets right now. In a podcast with Spence Checketts on ESPN Radio this weekend, the YES Network announcer raised question after question about Brooklyn’s chemistry, their roster shuffling and in particular, about Steve Nash’s coaching and Ben Simmons future.
The depth and breadth of the questions was a rarity for Eagle who has 20 years of experience calling Nets games … and so the resulting credibility.
While Eagle posed more questions about the team’s future, he also talked about when he realized that the Nets were not going anywhere in the playoffs. They were simply not going to “magically” turn things around when the post-season began after a mediocre regular season.
“There was an acknowledgment that they could not do that the last week and change of the season. When they required wins to get into the play-in, it was no easy affair,” he told Checketts. They were flirting with disaster consistently against the Rockets, the Cavaliers, the Pacers — games that they had to win — Detroit. These were not easy solutions for them.
“So that gave me a pretty clear indicator. They weren’t blowing anyone out. There were very few dominant efforts. Everything was a struggle. So when they got to the post-season, I just didn’t think magically they would be able to repair all of the issues and issues related to chemistry, related to injury and related to being available. You can’t just snap your fingers and make it work.”
The Nets, he added, were inconsistent, particularly compared with the Celtics who unceremoniously swept them in the first round.
“You are what your record says you are. Bill Parcells said that and he’s 100 percent correct. They were the seventh seed for a reason. They were inconsistent. Boston was the No. 2 seed for a reason. They found the winning formula into the post-season.”
As for Nash’s performance, Eagle said that while the head coach has the communications skills and the basketball acumen, he suggested that the questions about rotations and flow-of-game issues were indeed relevant. He specifically cited Nash’s decision not to use LaMarcus Aldridge at all and Blake Griffin sparingly at the end of the regular season and in the playoffs. He described Nash’s situation a learning, adjusting and developing experience.
“I think it’s been a really challenging situation for him based on the circumstances, based on the pandemic, based on the expectations. He’s not doing this in anonymity. He’s doing this in the biggest media market in the country on a team with a bullseye on it back.
“What I see is a very capable communicator and someone who obviously played at the very highest level with Hall of Fame credentials and his ability to relate and connect with human beings is never going to be questioned. The basketball acumen is obviously there. It’s how it’s applied and how is it used.
“Rotation-wise, [there are] certainly question marks: Why LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin had no role whatsoever late in the season into the playoffs when you needed some others to step forward. That [players] were never considered viable options by the coaching staff. And flow-of-game. Things that you notice over the course of a season, things that even Steve would say, hey, he’s learning, he’s adjusting, he’s developing as a head coach but it seems crystal clear that he’s going to be back. He’s excited to be back. He also has the Kevin Durant seal of approval and that goes a long way in this organization.”
As for Simmons, who he called a “real, living, breathing distraction” at season’s end, Eagle raised questions there as well.
“That’s a whole other topic that we could do another 30 minutes probably just on him and his situation: He had successful back surgery. That storyline continued to dominate the headlines. ‘Is he going to play? Is he available? Does he want to play?’
“At some point, it’s a distraction, a real, living, breathing distraction and it became that for the Nets. What can they expect of him? The mental part of it … where is he at? Does he want to play? Does he want to be part of this squad? Is this the right team for him to make his return? And make it successful? “
Eagle also told Checketts that fans should expect an off-season similar to last summer with wholesale changes everywhere but with “the core,” which he basically identified as Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. He also questioned where the Nets will ultimately bite the bullet and pay Bruce Brown the big bucks needed to keep him.
“I think it will be very similar to the transition beyond the players you just mentioned. everybody else will continued replaceable if they think they can upgrade. They shuffled the deck beyond the core group — and obviously, the trade for Harden was a big part of that — with Curry and Drummond and Ben Simmons,” he said.
“Bruce Brown has earned himself a healthy raise. Whether Nets are the team that provides it to him, I don’t know. I know they love him. And he’s easy to love. He’s a great guy. He’s a great teammate and he plays his butt off. He’s improved in every category. He makes winning plays, but the number may be too rich for their blood with the tax ramifications. Lot of questions in there.
“The run-it-back mentality? Sure. You have Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. That’s your core, but you got put the right people around them. There just wasn’t a whole lot of trust in the rest of the guys that they could win you a game when your two biggest players may not have it on a given night.”
In a general discussion of the NBA, Eagle also said things related to the Nets, like how this year proves that the regular season matters, responding to Checketts point that the last four teams standing in each conference were also the top four teams in regular season standings. He also suggested that load management, while necessary in some ways, has become an issue for fans.