Ever since the NBA All-Star break, a subtle shift has occurred in the life of Brooklyn’s most beloved, least authorized mascot.
On an average Nets game night, your pal Crummy no longer feels the need to buy an extra Thunderbird to drown a long evening of stale, uninspired basketball. No, it turns out two bottles of the good stuff is all the buzz a law-abiding pigeon needs when the boys in black are putting on a show actually worth watching.
At first glance, you might say not much has changed for the gang at Barclays. For all the talk surrounding just about every guy on the roster leading up to the Feb. 19 trade deadline, the Nets made only one move: Gladly taking on Thaddeus Young in exchange for sending Kevin Garnett back to Minnesota, where he can retire in his old Timberwolves jersey and help the team’s quest to lose as much as possible.
Looked at another way, however, a lot is different for these Nets, in terms of stability and confidence. It was no secret Brooklyn’s original core of Brook Lopez, Deron Williams, and Joe Johnson were as open to potential buyers as the nest my buddy Carl and I tried to flip in Fort Greene a couple years ago, right when everyone started getting cold claws due to tight credit.
It’s not easy to perform when every day you wake up unsure if you’re going to have to fly across the country to join a new team in a new city. Even George Clooney couldn’t take it after a while in “Up In The Air” (or as it was marketed in the bird community, “They Fly Among Us”). Now that the members of this team know they’re in Brooklyn for the remainder of the season, they can focus on the task at hand. Monday’s victory over the West’s-best Golden State Warriors — marking four wins in the first six games after the All-Star break — was a major statement of intent.
But if there’s one thing the Nets have proven in three years in Brooklyn, it’s that just because a team is good enough to sneak into the Eastern Conference playoffs doesn’t mean it’s fun to watch. That’s where the minor changes that have taken place in recent weeks come in. The most obvious is the addition of Young, who is a fine player and a nice burst of athleticism. Mostly, however, he’s a reminder of how dynamic a 26-year-old body that stretches the defense at the power forward position can be, especially when compared to Garnett’s mule-like attempts to will his body into playing the game of basketball.
Then you have this rookie Markel Brown that the Nets traded for on draft night last year. He’s now starting at shooting guard, but he could take one shot a game for all I care. The kid can play some serious defense, and any occasional explosiveness he brings on the offensive end is a plus. Couple that with the fact that fill-in point guard Jarrett Jack, arguably the most consistently exciting Net this season, is continuing to see significant playing time even with Deron Williams’ returning to action last month, and you’ve finally got a squad with some pop to it.
Speaking of which, spare a buck for a beer?