The Nets were maybe an inch or two from beating the Bucks and advancing to the Eastern Conference finals despite all their injury problems, but when Kevin Durant hit a miraculous off-balance jumper with one second left in regulation of Game 7, the toe of his left shoe was touching the three-point line, which made it a two-point shot that sent the game to overtime instead of a three-point series winner.
"My big . . . foot was stepping on the line," Durant moaned. "I was close to ending their season off of that shot, but it wasn’t in God’s plan and we move on."
As they head into the offseason following their disappointing second-round exit, here are five questions confronting the Nets:
1. Do the Nets have the best player on the planet?
OK, that’s not really a question. With Kyrie Irving missing the final three games with a sprained ankle and James Harden playing with a Grade 2 hamstring sprain, Durant put the Nets on his back and delivered an epic playoff performance, finishing with a 49-point triple-double in a Game 5 victory, 32 points in a Game 6 loss and 48 points in the Game 7 overtime loss, which marked the most points ever scored in a Game 7 and gave Durant an all-time record scoring average in multiple Game 7s (5) of 36.2 points. In fact, coming off an 18-month layoff following Achilles tendon surgery, Durant more than answered every question about whether he could be great again.
2. Who will be coming and going during a critical offseason?
Spencer Dinwiddie, who missed most of the season after ACL surgery, declined his $12.3 million option to enter free agency. The Nets have his Bird rights and can do a sign-and-trade rather than extend him. Veterans Blake Griffin and Jeff Green both are free agents, and both indicated they enjoy Brooklyn and would welcome a chance to return. Bruce Brown is a restricted free agent, who said he grew with the Nets and wants to remain. DeAndre Jordan is one of seven Nets with guaranteed contracts, but he lost his starting job, did not play in the playoffs and might be available in a trade if the Nets can shed his remaining two years and $20 million.
3. Might Steve Nash lose some key assistants?
The Nets’ first-year head coach put together a stellar staff of assistant coaches, but with seven NBA head coaching jobs open, he could lose more than one key aide. Ime Udoka has become the Boston Celtics head coach. Mike D’Antoni, who has coached six franchises, already has interviewed with the Trail Blazers, and Jacque Vaughn, who was the Nets’ interim coach at the end of the 2019-20 season, might get some consideration.
4. What are the Nets’ prospects to win an NBA title next season?
Joe Harris, who won the NBA three-point percentage title two of the past three seasons, suffered through a terrible shooting slump over the last five games against the Bucks. He blamed himself for missing open looks near the end of Games 6 and 7 that might have allowed the Nets to advance. "Frankly, had I played better, we might be in a little bit of a different spot," Harris said. Looking ahead, he added, "It’s definitely going to be a motivating factor for me in this offseason. Like a lot of us were just talking about in the locker room, this thing is far from over for us . . . We’re all just appreciative of one another. It’s an unfortunate outcome, but for the group of guys that will be around and coming back, that’s a motivating factor."
5. Can the Nets overcome the injury bug that ultimately ruined their season and come back healthy?
That is the $126.7 million question, which is how much the Big 3 of Durant, Irving and Harden are scheduled to earn next season. Those three played together for only 332 minutes of the 4,062 the Nets played in the regular season and playoffs. When next season begins, Durant will be 33, Harden 32 and Irving 29. Ultimately, the Nets’ second-round exit might be a blessing in disguise. The NBA Finals could end as late as July 22, so the Nets have an extra month for rehab and recovery before training camp opens at the end of September.