For the first time in five years under general manager Sean Marks, the Nets won a first-round playoff series. But that fell far short of the goal they had of winning an NBA title when they traded in January to add James Harden to a superstar cast headed by Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
All three players suffered a variety of injuries that limited them to playing just eight regular-season games together. They made it through a 4-1 series victory over the Celtics, but Harden suffered a Grade 2 right hamstring strain 43 seconds into Game 1 of their second-round series against the Bucks, Irving went down with a right ankle sprain in Game 4 that ended his season, and though Harden returned in Game 5 and finished the series, he obviously wasn’t close to 100%.
Marks and coach Steve Nash took part in a media conference call on Monday, and Marks expressed his respect for the sacrifice Harden made. "For him to be able to push through and play speaks volumes to the competitor James is," Marks said. "And for him to say, ‘Yes, I risk further injury, but I came here on a mission, I came here to accomplish something,’ an incredible amount of respect.
"He’s going to have to work these next three or four weeks and hopefully get back to being healthy again, but admirable and it was a risk that was well-versed and well-talked about between performance [staff], coaching and James . . . You’ve got to trust the player a lot when it comes to that, and it just shows what he’s made of."
In light of all the injuries the Nets suffered during a condensed 72-game season in which Nash used a franchise-record 38 different starting lineups, Marks said he does not view their second-round exit as a failure. He characterized it as a learning and growing process.
"It hurts," Marks said. "It should hurt, but life moves on. Nobody is feeling sorry for the Nets, and we’re not feeling sorry for ourselves."
Nash expressed his pride in how the Nets came close to advancing before losing Game 7 in overtime to the Bucks. "I look at all the adversity we faced, and our team gave it absolutely everything they had," Nash said. "We told the players just how proud we are, the way they approached the season, the work they put in, the way they were able to overcome a lot of things. It didn’t go our way this time, but we’ll take some of this with us and it will make us stronger and we’ll approach that next season with this in our toolbox and it will grow our character and resolve."
As of June 29, Durant, Irving and Harden all are eligible for contract extensions, but Marks said it’s too soon to make that decision.
"Obviously, we’re committed to them," Marks said. "They play a big role in how we’re going to continue to build this, how we’re going to drive our culture and the identity of the team. When they were healthy, that’s a very, very elite unit. I don’t see any shortage of people wanting to play alongside them or wanting to be part of something here."
Health obviously must be a top offseason priority. Last week, the Lakers fired their trainer after an injury-filled season. Marks said he will study the performance team, but he’s not in the habit of making rash decisions.
"We know we’ve got guys coming back and we’ve got to get them healthy," Marks said. "The objective is to go into next season with the right habits, having worked this offseason. Go in with a different mindset of how are we going to attack 82 games. Hopefully, it’s 82 games and a regular-season format and a proper training camp."