“Wait ’til next year” was the slogan of the old Brooklyn Dodgers. Now their spiritual and sporting successors are fittingly echoing the same refrain.
A Nets superteam built to win it all just got bounced in the second round by the Bucks. But plenty of strong squads suffer heartbreak the year their core is assembled, only to use that as fuel for a championship run the next. Predictably, that will be the Nets’ mindset with their offseason starting earlier than expected.
It has to be.
“Absolutely. That’s got to be our approach, is we were very close,” Steve Nash said Monday. “[We faced] a lot of adversity, and if we can refine and improve what we do, why can’t we take this with us, grow, learn and be back with even more resolve, more of an understanding of what it takes to win?
“That’s definitely the silver lining is what we can take from this, what we can add to our toolbox and to our collective mentality and culture. … Everyone here is fired up to get back to work and build this thing back up, and even stronger.”
Within the Nets’ locker room, there is a firm belief that the single biggest part of getting stronger is getting healthier.
The players are convinced their second-round series would’ve gone differently if Kyrie Irving wasn’t sidelined by a sprained ankle and James Harden wasn’t slowed by a Grade 2 hamstring strain.
That duo logged only 202 minutes all regular season alongside Kevin Durant, and 130 in the postseason. They were a plus-64 in the playoffs, but injuries conspired to keep them from being at their best.
“It’s tough; really tough. We were so close to advancing,” Nash said. “It didn’t go our way this time. But we’ll take some of this with us, and it’ll make us stronger and we’ll approach that next season with this in our toolbox and it’ll grow our character and resolve.”
Yes, they were tantalizingly close in a series of what ifs.
The Nets could’ve been facing Atlanta in the Eastern Conference Finals if Joe Harris had hit just one more 3-pointer in Games 3 or 7. Or if Durant’s toe hadn’t touched the line on his long last-second 2 to send Game 7 into OT, instead of a 3 to send them to the next round. He wears a size 17 shoe, but dons an 18 for games.
That’s how close. And the Nets know it.
“It hurts. It should hurt,” GM Sean Marks said. “But life moves on. Nobody’s feeling sorry for the Nets, and we’re not feeling sorry for ourselves. That’s pro sports.”
Marks has to take the more analytical bird’s-eye view. He has to be busy with the draft and free agency, trying to extend the contracts of the Big 3 and put the right pieces around them with nine free agents on this roster.
Those decisions are best made dispassionately, not in the heat of the moment. And after a Game 7 loss suffered with gut-wrenching injuries, the moment is still very hot.
Still, Marks insists the early exit was more a disappointment than a failure.
“I don’t look at it as failure. I think the term ‘failure’ can be used in a completely different array of circumstances far more serious than what we went through. Is it disappointment? Yes. Without a doubt,” Marks said. “We’re going to own it, we’re going to grow from it.
“We’ll be better because of this. We’ll progress through this and learn from the roller-coaster ride that was this season. But I don’t look at this as failure — we all grew as people, as individuals and as a unit. We’re definitely going to come out with the resolve and resiliency to attack next season and achieve our goals.”
It’ll only be a failure if they don’t learn from it and build on it.
Granted, their spiritual and sporting predecessors won five NL pennants from 1941 to ’53, but lost to the Yankees in the World Series all five times. They finally broke through and beat the Bombers in 1955, still the borough’s only title.
The Nets hope their goals don’t take that long.