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Bird's-Eye View: Ian Eagle's Brooklyn Breakdown

Eagle sees good things ahead in his 20th season as Nets broadcaster
10/22/2013 9:42 AM ET
By Lou DiPietro

Ian Eagle sees Kevin Garnett as a big X-Factor for the Nets this season.(AP)
The 2013-14 season marks Ian Eagle’s twentieth broadcasting the Nets, a stint that began back in 1994 when he became the play-by-play voice of the team on WFAN – and with two decades, two Finals appearances, and a change in location logged behind the mic, “The Birdman” says that he still “can’t remember a season as highly anticipated” as this one.

“Combining the new players, the new coach, the second year in Brooklyn, a building fan base, and a curiosity as to how all of this is going to mesh, it’s created a buzz that this franchise has never experienced, even when they went to back-to-back NBA Finals,” Eagle posits.

So what makes this season such an interesting one in Eagle’s mind? It starts with the man he named as this season’s X-factor, one Kevin Garnett.

“I think Garnett is the X-factor for two reasons; one is what he brings to the team: experience, passion, and an edge to the court,” Eagle said, “and the second aspect is recognizing that he’s not in his prime and the ultimate goal is what this team is able to accomplish come playoff time. Kevin’s understanding of how to manage minutes, being honest with himself and the coaching staff, and recognizing that ultimately he’s not going to be able to log the kind of wear and tear that he’s accustomed to will be the X-factor in what this team ultimately accomplishes.”

It has been rumored that Garnett may sit out the second half of back-to-back games from time to time, but even if he’s on the bench as much as he’s on the court, just having “The Big Ticket” in the fold will bring – and has already brought – a new aura to Barclays Center.

“His presence already has changed the whole vibe around the team. There’s a certain level that you get to in this league where you get the respect of teammates and coaches, but it’s rare that players on a team don’t want to let another player down,” Eagle said. “Normally, that’s reserved for the coach-player dynamic – Gregg Popovich in San Antonio is an example in my mind where the players don’t want to let him down – but Garnett is the rarity now in that he brings that whole feeling as a player; I think the guys on this team realize that there’s a small window of opportunity, and they need to handle their business the right way because this isn’t a five-year plan.”

The Nets’ ultimate goal is of course to win a championship, and while last summer’s spree helped bring the team back to relevance, it only resulted in a first-round playoff exit.

“Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, and Brook Lopez were able to bring the franchise up a level last season, and we can’t forget that his organization is two years removed from being at the bottom of the barrel,” Eagle said, “but in order to truly compete, I think upper management and ownership clearly acknowledged that they needed to make additional moves.”

That’s exactly what they did, and after making huge strides in the talent department with their re-signings and additions last summer, owner Mikhail Prokhorov and general manager Billy King went out this year and added three players who have been the top of the mountain – Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Jason Terry – and a head coach in Jason Kidd who not only has strong ties to the franchise, but also has that experience with Terry on the 2011 champion Dallas Mavericks.

As far as the Boston imports go, simply having that experience and knowing what it takes to win, Eagle says, may be the biggest impact they have on the black and white this season.

“They have a winning attitude, and they’re guys that have done it at the highest level,” Eagle said. “And, with them, the team addressed what they were missing. If you watched the playoff series with the Bulls, it was pretty obvious that the team lacked in toughness and leadership, and all of those attributes are now a part of this roster.”

And as for the new head coach, who was a player as recently as this past May, Eagle notes that like catchers becoming baseball managers, the fact that Kidd was one of the league’s all-time best point guards will help him tremendously as he transitions to the bench boss role – but even with a team full of superstars, he has a lot of work to do to bring that group under control.

“I think the biggest challenge for Jason is not only managing all of the personalities, but also establishing his own coaching persona and what kind of leader he is,” Eagle said. “He has an incredible staff, and this team is going to be able to function late in games with strategy and motivation and professionalism; that’s not in doubt. But, over the course of an 82-game season, a head coach has to establish a certain rhythm with his team, and if you’ve never done it, that’s something you have to experience before you know how you’re going to handle certain situations.”

And, in that, Kidd has a lot of work to do simply to overcome the fact that as recently as six months ago he was a contemporary of everyone on his roster, and in fact is only a couple years removed from being Terry’s teammate in Dallas.

“While he had the respect of the players on the fact that he’s a future Hall of Famer, it’s still a different kind of relationship when you become the head coach and everybody is looking to you, whether it’s through adversity or prosperity,” Eagle said. “Like anything, if you’re buddies with a co-worker, and that co-worker gets a promotion and is now your boss, the relationship isn’t the same. Even though you know each other well and have always gotten along, the dynamic of the relationship changes, and that’s why I think you haven’t seen a proliferation of great players that became outstanding head coaches; it’s difficult.”

All that said, though, Eagle predicts coaching success for the owner of the Nets’ newest retired number.

“Jason Kidd is very thorough and aware; he thinks two steps ahead, and that helped make him one of the all-time great point guards, and I do think that part of his brain is also going to be useful in being a successful head coach.”

If, at least early on, Kidd has the same success he did as a player, there could be a lot of happy fans flocking to the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues next summer.

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