The coronavirus pandemic halted the NBA season four months ago, the equivalent of an entire offseason. It is easy to forget where everyone left off, let alone what has changed since we last saw them play basketball. In order to get you up to speed before the July 30 season re-opening slate at Walt Disney World in Orlando, we will be reviewing and previewing each of the 22 teams scheduled to participate.
[More NBA restart previews: Boston Celtics • Dallas Mavericks • Denver Nuggets • Houston Rockets • Indiana Pacers • Los Angeles Clippers • Los Angeles Lakers • Memphis Grizzlies • Miami Heat • Milwaukee Bucks • New Orleans Pelicans • Oklahoma City Thunder • Orlando Magic • Philadelphia 76ers • Phoenix Suns • Portland Trail Blazers • Sacramento Kings • San Antonio Spurs • Toronto Raptors • Utah Jazz • Washington Wizards]
Where were the Brooklyn Nets?
Place: Seventh in the East
When the season was suspended, the Brooklyn Nets were a long way from the excitement of signing Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving last July. Durant had long been declared out for the season, and Irving joined him when a shoulder injury cost him all but 20 games prior to surgery. Even before then, Irving saw the season as a lost cause, telling reporters in January, “We’re going to do the best with the guys we have in our locker room right now,” but one or two “glaring” holes would need to be filled around himself, Durant, DeAndre Jordan, Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert and Garrett Temple for Brooklyn to contend.
Irving notably left impending free-agent sharpshooter Joe Harris off that list, as well as third-year center Jarrett Allen, who lost his starting spot to Jordan two games before the hiatus. Both started for a Nets team that won 42 games and entered last year’s playoffs as a No. 6 seed. They were on a similar pace this season, posting a .500 record in 44 games without Irving to lift Brooklyn into seventh place.
Who’s in and who’s out?
Out: Kevin Durant (Achilles), Kyrie Irving (shoulder), DeAndre Jordan (COVID-19), Spencer Dinwiddie (COVID-19), Taurean Prince (COVID-19), Wilson Chandler (opt-out), Nicolas Claxton (shoulder)
Less than half of Brooklyn’s expected 10-man rotation at season’s start is available inside the bubble. Only LeVert, Allen, Harris and Temple remain. That quartet remains a talented supporting cast, but they are hardly a group that would even be close to the Eastern Conference playoff hunt on their own merit.
Even before the coronavirus ravaged the rotation, the Nets had already begun to work G League and two-way contracted players Chris Chiozza, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and Justin Anderson onto the roster. Brooklyn GM Sean Marks signed veterans Jamal Crawford and Michael Beasley just to field a team. Neither has played in the NBA all season, and Beasley has already been forced out by the coronavirus, further forcing the team’s hand. Just get comfortable to seeing a lot of names you do not recognize.
Over/under wins in the bubble: 2.5
NBA Finals odds: +4000
Championship odds: +8000
LeVert’s usage will soar in Orlando. A rising star before an ankle injury disrupted his breakout 2018-19 campaign, LeVert missed another two months this season with a thumb injury and often took a backseat to both Irving and Dinwiddie as a creator. In 16 games since Irving was declared out for the season, LeVert averaged 24.1 points (on 45/41/80 shooting splits), 5.3 assists, 4.8 rebounds and two combined blocks and steals in 33.1 minutes per game. That workload will further increase with Dinwiddie also out.
LeVert also happens to be a prime trade candidate should the Nets go shopping for a third star for next season. He and Allen will be showcased not only as potential contributors to Brooklyn’s championship pursuit in 2021, but also as assets if the Nets want to push their chips in for someone like Bradley Beal.
July 31: Orlando Magic, 2:30 p.m.
Aug. 2: Washington Wizards, 2 p.m.
Aug. 4: Milwaukee Bucks, 1:30 p.m. (NBATV)
Aug. 5: Boston Celtics, 9 p.m.
Aug. 7: Sacramento Kings, 5 p.m.
Aug. 9: L.A. Clippers, 9 p.m. (NBATV)
Aug. 11: Orlando Magic, 1 p.m.
Aug. 13: Portland Trail Blazers, TBD
The depleted Nets cannot move up from their current position as a seventh seed, but they could fall out of the playoffs with a disastrous performance. The eighth-place Orlando Magic are only a half-game behind them, and the Beal-less Washington Wizards are just two games back from forcing Brooklyn into a truly embarrassing play-in series for the eighth seed. Losing two straight to the Wizards, dropping out of the playoffs entirely and securing a lottery pick would obviously be best for the franchise’s future.
However, Washington is equally depleted, so completely tanking the bubble is probably still a longshot. In that case, they should want to stay put as a seventh seed, avoid the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round and steal a first-round game or two from the No. 2 seed, hopefully via some vintage Crawford.
Yahoo Sports NBA prediction
Place: Eighth in the East
Finish: First-round loss
Check out the NBA Disney World bubble in augmented reality:
More from our NBA restart series:
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