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A Brooklyn Story: From Jacque Vaughn To Kevin Ollie.

The Brooklyn Nets have needed more franchise stability in recent years, and their latest decision to fire Head Coach Jacque Vaughn was not surprising after their recent losses. They suffered massive setbacks during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the roster never recovered. The departures of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant were devastating for the franchise. The short-lived superstar duo disappointed the Nets fans after not achieving their expectations.  

Irving went to the Dallas Mavericks on a 3-year deal worth $126 million via trade last summer’s free agency, and the Phoenix Suns received Durant for Cameron Johnson, Jae Crowder, four unprotected first-round picks, and Mikal Bridges in a four-team deal. Johnson has become a crucial role player for the Nets, and Bridges has become their franchise centerpiece.

The Suns traded Crowder to the Milwaukee Bucks after he requested a trade and refused to play for the Suns.  The Nets were 32-20, sitting at the 4th seed in the east, and fell to the 6th seed after their talent regressed. Vaughn tried his best to salvage the rest of the 2022-2023 season, and they made the playoffs, where they lost in the first round to the Philadelphia 76ers

Regardless of the first-round exit, the new version of the Nets impressed the fanbase with their mental toughness and valiant effort during the losses. In a short time, the locker room established a strong camaraderie. The front office also gave Vaughn a contract extension with a team option set to end in 2027. The Nets have not been able to be at full strength during their season, which intrigued the front office to discover the full potential of the roster.

 3x All-Star Ben Simmons cannot stay healthy, and he was supposed to be a significant acquisition for the franchise. Simmons had an unpleasant ending in Philadelphia, and the Nets provided a fresh start. He was experiencing back pain the last couple of years of his Sixers tenure, which still lingers in Brooklyn. Simmons was unavailable for most of Vaughn’s tenure, which hindered the potential of his rotations. 

Even though he lacked a competitive roster for the current landscape of the Eastern Conference, the front office blamed him for their losses night after night. Reports of disagreements between Vaughn and the players began after their 50-point loss to the Boston Celtics on February 14th. Bridges was visibly frustrated during his post-game scrum and expressed his emotions to the media after the loss.

"You can't just let this one go; just let it drop. Maybe if you lost towards the end, but you got beat by 50,” Bridges said. “A lot of sh*t is not right, and you've got to fix it." 

Five days after the loss on February 19th, the Nets fired Vaughn. Most NBA coaches take the blame for team failures, and this time was no different. Assistant Coach Kevin Ollie was promoted to interim head coach and will fulfill the obligation until the end of the season.

Ollie played in the NBA for 15 seasons and he has been coaching for 14 years. He was the head coach of the Uconn Huskies from 2012 to 2018, where he amassed a 127-79 record. It is his first season as an NBA head coach, and accepting the role in the middle of the year is difficult. On February 21st, he answered questions from the media about his plans for the offense and defense.

“We got a couple of things on defense that we are changing in our pick-and-rolls and a couple of offensive things that we’re doing to add more spacing,” Ollie said. “But the biggest thing is playing for each other and making the right plays, not being selfish.” 

 With the removal of Vaughn, the Nets have to decide what direction they will take their team. Youth is a significant reason for their 21-35 record this season. The average age for the Nets is 25 years old, which means the team needs more veterans to teach their young locker room. The oldest players on the roster are two 30-year-olds, Dennis Schröder, and Dorian Finney-Smith. Their roster has young, exciting talent like Cam Thomas, and Schröder could offer him much guidance. 

Bridges is entering his prime at 27 years old, and they can either build around him or trade him for future picks. He is a five-year veteran with the ability to guide younger players, and at his age, he hasn’t hit his ceiling yet. 

Since arriving in Brooklyn, Bridges has established himself as a star during his short tenure, and his performances in the clutch signify his ability to lead a team. His career-high 45-point performance against the Miami Heat put his skillset on display for the entire league to witness. After experiencing his first NBA trade from the Suns, the motivation to prove his worth transformed him into a star.

 Bridges is also known for his durability and availability, which makes him a reliable asset to his teammates. He has two more years left on his contract and is set to earn $24.9 million in the final year (25-26). The most they can offer is 34.8 million as the starting salary of an extension, totaling a 156.2 million 4-year contract extension.

It will take time for the Nets to build a contending team unless they are active in free agency. Ollie will need time to devise his system for the team, and the team has to get used to his style of play. The front office will closely monitor Ollie's coaching record to decide whether to pursue another head coach. The Nets could hire another coach and trade multiple players from the roster by the end of 2024 free agency.

Free agency is their best option, and their picks from the Suns trade will benefit them. Their low seeding gives them the possibility for high draft prospects. Developing their young core will take time, but the result has much upside. The franchise is unlikely to trade Bridges since they haven’t shown signs of a rebuild. They made the playoffs last year but lost in the first round.

As of February 25th, they are ranked 11th in the Eastern Conference and 2-8 in their previous ten games. Their first performance under Ollie was a 28-point loss to the Toronto Raptors 121-93. Ollie remained upbeat despite the loss in his coaching debut and credited the Raptors for their effort.

"I think sometimes challenges are good, just from our spacing and getting used to some of the new interactions we had on the basketball court with the new sets," Ollie said. " I think they're gonna get better. im confident in that, you just gotta fight through it, and that's what we're gonna do."

Their most recent performance was a 15-point loss against the Minnesota Timberwolves (39-17) on February 24th. March is on the horizon, and their best-case scenario is the play-in tournament unless they climb to the sixth seed. Firing Vaughn was meant to improve the team, and the roster will have to prove the problem was on the sideline instead of the court. 

X account: @AntwaneWillisjr

LinkedIn: Antwane Willis


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