By nearly every noteworthy account, the Brooklyn Nets are going to be bad this season. This is the sort of predictive assertion that borders on fact. The Nets were not good last season, nor were they very good the season before that (although they did make the playoffs). This year, they are palpably worse. The thing is that “bad” is rarely ever an absolute in this world, and I guess the other thing is that I physically attended multiple Nets games last season as a non-credentialed, neutral basketball fan.
I live within walking distance of the Barclays Center (what up, Brooklyn Heights), and thanks to extremely reasonable and available seats on StubHub, went to about a dozen games last year. The arena is architecturally interesting and has its own Calvin Klein-brand scent, if you’re into aesthetics. It’s nice that it’s affordable, although Jeremy Lin's arrival is both a clear upgrade (sorry, Shane Larkin) and a potentially dire threat to the dirt-cheap 300 level. The kicker with crappy teams is that there are different strains of crappy, and the Nets themselves lean more toward “charmingly awful” than “unwatchably sad.” Last season I developed a legitimate appreciation for Thaddeus Young’s versatile, rugged game (miss you, Thad). When the going is rough, otherwise obscured bright spots stand out. I can differentiate Bojan Bogdanovic (a Net) from Bogdan Bogdanovic (not a Net).
In September, Twitter had a laugh at this photo of five mostly anonymous players who may or may not still be on the roster, which gives you an idea of what’s in store, but the fact is, the Nets are generally trying. We can bank on this being true because the Nets still don’t own any of their own first-round picks: they literally can’t tank. These guys are essentially auditioning for next year, in perpetuity. That divorce between results and process means zero pressure, which paves the way for random players to become a special kind of cult hero. There’s something existentially nice about aimless basketball for basketball’s sake, even when the crowds are way too quiet and the nosebleeds far too cramped.
Last year I went to a game against the Kings with a friend who is a dedicated NBA fan. I honestly have no memory of who won. Yesterday I asked him to rationalize the value of that experience. This is what he said:
“I learn so much more about how teams play when I see them in person. The quiet of a Nets game makes it feel like you’re studying. The Nets give you irrational confidence about any team you like, because they’re so bad they make your favorite team better. We watched Boogie Cousins nearly get a triple double, giving 60% effort on one leg and barely running back past half court. Plus, Buffalo Boss tenders.”
If you're still not convinced, here’s a list of 10 more reasons. And no, Mikhail Prokhorov didn’t bribe me with free sandwiches for life.
1) Brook Lopez deserves our respect
2) Jeremy Lin’s ever-changing coif
3) Luis Scola is still fun
4) For some reason there’s a Captain America statue outside Barclays
5) Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Caris LeVert are healthy and intriguing
6) At least intelligent former Spurs people are running the ship
7) Deron Williams is still on payroll and the Nets need our help
8) Jay-Z and Beyonce might be there
9) The Cubano sandwich at Habana
10) In case Anthony Bennett makes the roster
The bottom line is this: if you like basketball, basketball is basketball. Even when it’s Nets basketball.