The Pistons did not take part in the NBA’s Orlando bubble last year, so forward Bruce Brown was antsy and excited to finally get his third pro season started last fall. When he arrived at Detroit’s practice facility for a workout on Nov. 16, however, he was unaware he was ultimately there to say goodbye.
Brown received a call from Pistons general manager Troy Weaver telling him that he had been traded to the Nets. Just like that, Brown went from tussling on a team that was most likely bound for the NBA lottery once again to joining one that included Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving and was on the short list of those capable of winning an NBA title.
“I was excited and couldn’t wait to get there,” Brown said. “I flew there that night.”
In addition to the obvious basketball benefits, the Boston native was also thrilled to be going back to the East Coast, where his family and friends would be within driving distance to see him play.
He wasn’t immediately certain what his role would be, but the Nets made it clear it would be substantial. They had acquired him because they admired his grit and defensive toughness, and they would use the burly 6-foot-4-inch wing as a small-ball center, too. Brown averaged 8.8 points and 5.4 rebounds and started 37 of Brooklyn’s 72 regular-season games.
“It’s been great,” said Brown’s father, Bruce Sr. “He was basically doing everything on Detroit. Since he’s gone to New York he doesn’t have as much pressure on him. He can move around and have other guys handle the ball. It’s nice to see him do his thing, because I know the player that he is, and how he’s being himself.”
Brown was raised in Boston and attended Wakefield High for two years through the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity, a voluntary program that places city students in suburban public schools. He would wake up at 6 a.m. each day to catch a bus to school, and after basketball practice he would take a bus to the Orange Line, go 19 stops, and then take one more bus home.
He was a big Celtics fan and had particular admiration for point guard Rajon Rondo. Sometimes when he attended games with his father he would tell him that he hoped to play on that court someday.
“I’d tell him he can be whatever he wants to be as long as he stays focused,” Brown Sr. said. “He just had to love the game, and he did. Bruce always had a basketball in his hand, and even if he didn’t he’d be moving around and doing moves like he did.”
Brown has faced the Celtics at TD Garden several times over his first three seasons. But those games can’t compare to the Nets coming to Boston for Games 3 and 4 of their opening-round playoff series this weekend.
“Just growing up as a kid and watching the Celtics in the playoffs all the time, and then actually being in the Garden and playing in them will be really cool,” Brown said. “The fans there are nuts. It’s going to be so loud. I can’t wait to get there and experience it.”
Sometimes, Brown Sr. still cannot believe that his son is sharing the court with Durant, Irving, and James Harden, who was acquired in a trade during the season. But he points out that when Brown is on the floor with them, he is not out of place.
Brown said that in addition to the obvious ways the three All-Stars help the Nets when they are playing, they have been important sounding boards for him. There is an active group text chain, and Brown said he frequently calls or FaceTimes the others when he has a basketball question, and their knowledge is invaluable to him.
“To play this game at the highest level you’ve got to have confidence in yourself,” Brown said. “So when they put me out there with those three, I just feel like I belong. I’m doing the right things out there.”