Coming into the 2017/18 NBA season Boston fans had every reason to be giddy about their chances to challenge the best teams in the league for championship glory. Key off-season acquisitions Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward looked set to lead a youthful core deep into the post-season.
Elsewhere, Brooklyn fans, for the first time in a long time, had reason for optimism. They finally parted ways with Brook Lopez and his onerous $22 million contract, and in return got a young talented point guard in D’Angelo Russell to pair in the backcourt with their cult hero, guard Jeremy Lin.
Fast forward two days into the season and both teams’ fortunes have drastically changed.
Gordon Hayward’s injury
Hayward was selected by the Utah Jazz with pick nine in the 2010 NBA draft. After playing seven seasons for the Jazz, he blossomed into a star of the NBA and earned his first All-Star appearance in 2017 in a loaded Western Conference. In the offseason, he became an unrestricted free agent and sought greener pastures with the Boston Celtics. Following the addition of Irving a month later, Boston were set for another Eastern Conference finals appearance against Cleveland.
In their season opener against Cleveland, however, Celtics fans got to see their new-look line up together for less than six minutes. It was supposed to be a sight to get used to; Kyrie Irving throwing up alley-oop passes for Hayward to finish. However, on their first attempt they couldn’t connect and Hayward landed badly on his left leg, fracturing his tibia and dislocating his ankle. The stadium fell silent and players from both sides looked visibly distraught as the aftermath showed his foot at a near right angle to the rest of his leg. The worst fears were confirmed the next day as Hayward was ruled out for the entire season.
What does this mean for Boston?
The Celtics were already up against it to push for a championship as their path to success appeared to have to go through perennial powerhouses Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors. Without Hayward, their task seems impossible. Going into the season the Eastern Conference finals was a minimum benchmark for success. Now, making it that far will be a huge achievement. Season 2017/18 is a write-off, but it’s not all doom and gloom.
Boston is a very young team built for sustained success. The silver lining is they now have a real opportunity to develop their young talent. In their two opening games of the season, we’ve already seen rookie Jayson Tatum average 37 minutes a game, sophomore Jaylen Brown average 34 minutes and 23-year-old Marcus Smart average 33.5 minutes. All three will be asked to take on a greater role in the offense with Hayward out and will be better in the long run for it. What started as a championship contention season lasted less than six minutes and has now become a development season.
Jeremy Lin’s injury
If you didn’t get swept up in ‘Linsanity’ in 2012 you either weren’t an NBA fan or you’re lying. Lin bounced around the NBA for a few seasons before taking New York City and the league by storm in a magical few months that started a cultural phenomenon we’d never seen before.
In the months of February and March 2012, he had the highest selling jersey in the NBA. He was rewarded with a sizeable contract from the Houston Rockets, yet could never return to those lofty heights. After brief stints with the Lakers and the Hornets he signed a three-year, $36 million contract with the Brooklyn Nets to be their starting point guard but could only manage 36 games in an injury plagued season in 2016/17.
In their season opener against Indiana, Lin and D’Angelo Russell gave fans a glimpse into the dynamic backcourt duo they could be. This was to be short-lived as with five minutes to go in the game, Lin landed awkwardly on his right leg after a hard drive to the basket. Lin immediately clutched his knee and appeared to say “I’m done”, over and over. Scans later confirmed he had ruptured his patella tendon and was out for the season.
What does this mean for Brooklyn?
Despite the arrival of Russell, Brooklyn were tipped to continue struggling in the Eastern Conference this season, and the injury to Lin furthers those prospects. The only solace is that the injury to Lin will free up more minutes in the backcourt for the Nets to see what kind of players they have in Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie and even Rondae Hollis-Jefferson in larger line-ups.
This franchise is still plagued by the failed experiment of trading their future for a veteran-based playoff run back in 2013 and will once again not have their first-round pick in next year’s draft. They have no stars on their roster, limited young talent to develop, and no draft picks to launch a rebuild. It’s safe to say it’s another write-off season for the Nets and they are still years away from rising up in the East.
The intrigue here lies in Lin’s future with the franchise as he’s owed $12 million this season and next season. Lin will be 30 years old next year and one must wonder how well he will come back from this injury. There isn’t likely to be a lot of interest for him on the trade market so we may see Brooklyn try to dump his salary and genuinely invest in their youth and a lengthy rebuilding process. Hopefully, they’ve learned from their mistakes of the past; there’s no shortcut to success and don’t make a deal with Danny Ainge.
Two teams headed in different directions for the 2017/18 NBA season now face similar realities. Both will now have to forgo the short-term success of this season to focus on building for the future.
Boston can do so and relaunch their championship aspirations in the 2018/19 season whilst Brooklyn must stick with it for several more years. The promise of the future will now have to be the focus for both teams and along with it comes a sense of optimism and hope.
Regardless, this has been a sad week for Boston, Brooklyn and NBA fans everywhere.
How do Boston and Brooklyn cope without their stars? Comment below!
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