The playoff series between the Miami Heat and Toronto Raptors won’t be a quick one.
When the Nets left New Jersey in favor of Brooklyn, New York in 2012, they brought with them a ton of excitement. The Nets won 49 games in their first season in Brooklyn and the future appeared to be bright for them. And although the Nets have made the playoffs in each of the last three seasons, their win total has declined in each year. But for a franchise that’s all-time winning percentage is just .439, the Nets are off to one of the worst starts ever. The Nets lost their first seven games to begin this NBA season and even though they’ve been able to be more competitive in their recent games, Brooklyn’s record is now 2-11. A championship cannot be won this early into the NBA season, but a start like the Nets have had can surely diminish their chances of being a contender.
Lionel Hollins is in his second season as the Nets head coach which in itself is a miracle due to the fact that Brooklyn hasn’t had a head coach last more than one season since they crossed backed over the Hudson River. Hollins is a no-nonsense head coach that will hold his players accountable. Hollins’ approach led the Nets to buying out the contract of point guard Deron Williams over the summer which marked the end of his disappointing tenure with the club. And although the victories have not been there for the Nets so far this NBA season, Williams is one less headache that they have to worry about.
The Nets surely weren’t going to win with Williams, but this is a team that still needs an upgrade at the point guard position. Point guard Jarrett Jack was brought in last season to push Williams, but he ended up becoming the Nets starting point guard when Williams fell out of favor with Hollins. Jack is an NBA journeyman, but this season he is enjoying his best start as a professional as he is averaging 14.7 points and 7.3 assists per game. However, Jack is a solid backup point guard. And for the Nets, they have lacked a franchise player at point guard ever since they traded Jason Kidd to the Dallas Mavericks in 2008 which is what they thought they were getting with Williams.
What the Nets currently have is a team consisting of a few solid players in center Brook Lopez, power forward Thaddeus Young, and shooting guard Joe Johnson. This is a trio of good players, but no of these players has the ability to put the Nets on his respective back.
But regardless of who is currently on the Nets roster, they must find a way to win in spite of their unfavorable schedule to begin this season. 13 of the Nets first 16 opponents this season were playoff teams last year which has included them losing four of their first five games by at least 10 points. And as the losses have piled up for the Nets, general manager Billy King is watching with a keen eye as it might be time to wave the white flag soon if this trend continues in Brooklyn.
Johnson is in the final year of his contract as he is earning nearly $25 million this season. Expiring contracts are like gold in the NBA and for a player like Johnson who is 12th on the NBA’s all-time list for made three-point field goals, he could provide a spark to a contending team should the Nets attempt to trade him. But at the same time, what the Nets need to practice most is patience.
When Mikhail Prokhorov purchased the Nets in 2010, he vowed to deliver a championship within five years. And in hoping to make good on that boast, Prokhorov allowed King to trade away draft picks along with young players in order to bring in veterans that he felt would lead Brooklyn to a title. But that hasn’t worked out as the Nets have not made it past the conference semifinals since coming to Brooklyn. And what the Nets need to do is to develop some patience while also attempting to get younger.
With Lopez and Young under contract with the Nets through 2018, the Nets should build around them which starts with bringing in a quality point guard. Memphis Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley Jr. is set to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. And although Conley is not a top-tier point guard, he is a player that is familiar with Hollins’ system from their time together with the Grizzlies while he is also a player that could potentially team with Jack to provide the Nets with two serviceable point guards which would improve their play. The Nets already have nearly $57 million committed to player salaries for next season which surprisingly puts them under the NBA’s salary cap and it could also give them flexibility to contend; as long as they discontinue their recent practice of taking on massive contracts for aging players.
This NBA season doesn’t have the makings of a good one for the Nets, but should Prokhorov and King decide to display some patience with Hollins, this is a team that could turn it around. But at the same time, it isn’t a good sign when you’re beginning to look forward to next NBA season for a team and we’re not even at Thanksgiving.
Former World Wrestling Entertainment superstar “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase lived and died by his famous catchphrase that “everyone has a price” as he felt that he could buy whatever he wanted including the WWE Championship. For Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhrov the same can be said for him. Prokhrov purchased the Nets in 2010 and he immediately vowed to build a winner. At the time of Prokhrov’s purchase of the Nets, the team still called the State of New Jersey home with an eye on relocating to Brooklyn in 2012. Prokhrov immediately began a turf war with the New York Knicks as far as who would be the Big Apple’s basketball team. Prokhrov put up a billboard near Madison Square Garden in Manhattan while Knicks owner James Dolan would counter with one near the Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn. Prokhrov was showing that he wasn’t going to stay away from controversy and that he was also eager to spend money.
After missing out on the floor LeBron James sweepstakes in 2010, the Nets sought to acquire small forward Carmelo Anthony from the Denver Nuggets in 2011. But Anthony chose the Knicks over the Nets. Undaunted by this, the Nets were determined to put the name of an All-Star caliber player on the marquee and they would acquire point guard Deron Williams from the Utah Jazz. The Nets wanted to build their team around Williams and in the summer of 2012 they re-signed him to a five-year, $98 million deal. The Nets were not done wheeling and dealing as they would acquire shooting guard Joe Johnson from the Atlanta Hawks. Johnson would join Williams and center Brook Lopez to give Prokhrov what he believed would be his championship core with the Nets.
But in the Nets first season in Brooklyn, Williams began to show his true colors. After the Nets paid Williams, all of a sudden he wasn’t a fan of the system the head coach Avery Johnson was running in spite of the fact that this style of play had been in place ever since he joined the team. And after a 14-14 start to the season, Johnson was fired. The Nets would win 49 games that season but they would be eliminated in the first round of the NBA Playoffs.
In the summer of 2013, Nets general manager Billy King would be “Trader Joe” once more as he acquired power forward Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and shooting guard Jason Terry from the Boston Celtics. The Nets were also in search of a new head coach and they turned to former NBA point guard Jason Kidd who as a player led the team to their only two appearances in the NBA Finals. The Nets would advance to the second round of the playoffs last season, but they did it with an aging team.
The Nets would lose Pierce to free agency as he signed with the Washington Wizards while Kidd surprised many people when he left Brooklyn to become the head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks. Kidd was replaced by former Memphis Grizzlies head coach Lionel Hollins and the Nets have stumbled out of the gate this season with a record of 8-12. Now reports are surfacing that the Nets are shopping Williams, Lopez, and Johnson.
Since the Nets came to Brooklyn they have become one of the biggest spenders in the NBA. Last season the Nets payroll of $102 million meant that Prokhrov had to fork over nearly $80 in luxury tax to the league. That is an enormous number for a team that didn’t win a championship. This season the Nets have a payroll of $93 million and once again Prokhrov will be forking over luxury tax money to the NBA.
You must give credit where it is due as Prokhrov is willing to spend money as he gave maximum deals to Lopez and Williams while taking on the large contracts of players such as Johnson, Pierce, and Garnett. But when teams sign players to maxiumum deals regardless if they are big market teams or not, they must first determine whether or not the player is truly worth the deal as contracts such as these can put a bind on a team in the future. Lopez, and Williams were paid like superstars, but neither player is that. Since joining the Nets, Williams’ points per game have increased, but his assists totals have decreased along with his ability to remain healthy. The Nets selected Lopez tenth overall in the first round of the NBA Draft in 2008 and like Williams, he has been unable to stay healthy.
What the Nets must do now is what they should have done in the first place which is to show patience and attempt to build a team through the NBA Draft instead of opting for the quick fix. After selecting Lopez in 2008, former Nets general manager Rod Thorn missed an opportunity to select any one of a quartet of point guards that were available during the 2009 NBA Draft in Jrue Holiday, Ty Lawson, Jeff Teague, or Darren Collison. Instead Thorn and the Nets opted for swingman Terrence Williams who is no longer in the NBA while Holiday, Lawson, Teague, and Collison are all currently on NBA rosters. In 2010, the Nets had the third overall pick of the NBA Draft which they used on power forward Derrick Favors while passing on power forward DeMarcus Cousins along with small forward Gordon Hayward and Paul George. Favors would go on to be part of the trade that brought Williams to the Nets. In 2012, the Nets would acquire small forward Gerald Wallace from the Portland Trailblazers in exchange for their first-round pick that year. The pick would be the sixth overall pick of that draft which the Blazers would use on point guard Damian Lillard who would be the NBA’s Rookie of the Year the following season. Sandwiched in between these misses at the NBA Draft by the Nets, there was also the signing of swing man Anthony Morrow in 2010 by the team to a five-year, $35 million deal. And in his two seasons with the Nets, Morrow only averaged 12.6 points per game.
The Nets wanted to be a breath of fresh air to basketball fans in New York City that had grown tired of the Knicks act. But instead the Nets have fallen into the same “get rich quick scheme” that has befelled the Knicks for many seasons. Prokhrov has stayed out of King’s way and just let him spend his money. Prokhrov felt that spending money alone would lead to a championship, but what he failed to realize is that team chemistry is tough to build and once you spend the almighty dollar, the expecatation level for your team increases and unless you’re making a move to acquire a player the caliber of James (ala the Miami Heat in 2010), it doesn’t work. It won’t be easy for King, but the if the Nets are able to trade at least one of the bad contracts belonging to Williams, Lopez, and Johnson it would be a shot in the arm for them. It is always better to pay peanuts for a losing team as opposed to breaking the bank for a team that is nowhere near ready to claim a championship.
Sources: Basketball-reference.com. Sportrac.com