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Kristian Winfield: For super team Nets, anything shy of Finals is a disaster

Kristian Winfield, New York Daily News on

Published in Basketball

NEW YORK — When LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh joined forces in Miami, it was Finals or bust, and the Heat did not bust. When Kevin Durant joined Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green on the Warriors, Golden State became an instant dynasty. When Dennis Rodman joined Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, the Bulls won another three NBA titles.

The new-look Nets must be judged by the same super team standard.

Nets general manager Sean Marks won’t say it, so I will. It will be both a disappointment and a failure if these super Nets do not win an NBA championship, let alone make the NBA Finals this season.

The bar must be set that high. Anything lower ignores the significance of what Brooklyn just surrendered.

The Nets repeated risks of regimes past despite claims they would not, mortgaging their future by trading seven year’s worth of first-round draft assets and their two best, young players. In exchange, Brooklyn received former league MVP James Harden, formed a Big 3 around Harden, Durant and Kyrie Irving, and punched its ticket to perennial championship contention by putting together the most talented group of three players on any NBA roster.

Brooklyn now owns the best odds to win the Eastern Conference and the second-best odds to win the NBA Finals behind LeBron James’ Los Angeles Lakers. If they don’t live up to at least that, they will have failed.

“I don’t want to get into what’s a failure and what’s not,” Marks said in a Zoom conference call on Thursday. “I think everybody knows what this team is positioned and capable of potentially doing. Now we’ve got to get everybody jelling. Get everyone on the same page and I don’t know if that takes two games, 10 games, 20 games, whatever it is. But there’s certainly the talent there.”

The Nets made the right move. Any time a player of Harden’s stature becomes available, you make the trade, as I wrote earlier this season. Even with Durant and Irving, the previous iteration of these Nets was not good enough. Caris LeVert is a good, teetering on very good player, but he is not the third star Brooklyn needed. Jarrett Allen was a casualty of doing business, a premier rim-protecting center who has been at the center of trade talks since the Nets signed DeAndre Jordan to a four-year, $40 million deal.

Trading the picks is a no-brainer, too. You don’t need draft picks if you’re competing for a championship. That’s why it’s a failure of epic proportions if the Nets don’t win big, or at least put themselves in position to win big by winning their own conference: This is a combustible group of three basketball egos who must each sacrifice if Marks’ wildest experiment is going to work.

 

If this group goes up in flames, the Nets’ future will burn right with it.

Nothing happens overnight. The Heat started 8-7 in their Big 3′s first year before running the table in the East and making it to the NBA Finals. The Nets were already battling their own rocky start, losing Spencer Dinwiddie to a partial ACL tear, Durant for a week to contact tracing and Irving, who has missed the last five games on personal leave.

No matter the start, they are still the East’s most dangerous team. They were already on pace for an all-time offense, and now they’ve just added an all-time offensive talent.

Marks, Joe Tsai and the Nets franchise have gone all-in on their star power, and all-in includes all their first-round draft picks in the next seven years. The Nets know how hard it is to operate without draft capital; they just spent three years in the cellar as a bottom-feeding franchise with no lottery picks to show for their struggles.

History repeats itself, and Big 3s are nothing new. Neither are gambles, and make no mistake, this is a gamble the Nets had to take.

Every gamble comes with risk, and the Nets risk re-living mistakes they say they learned from short Garnett-Pierce era, where the team won a single playoff series and was blown up after less than two years.

That was disappointing. Anything even close to that from this year’s Nets team will be a failure, and a reminder of how steep a price Brooklyn paid to put this team together.

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