Local High School Star
Join Date: Jun 2007
ESPN Inside Net Preview (John Hollinger.... ugh...)
The Nets are a little bit like a grand old mansion falling into disrepair. At first the signs are subtle -- some chipping paint here, a loose shingle there -- but over time the deferred maintenance becomes progressively more noticeable. And after a few years, you look up at a dilapidated shell and think, "Man, what happened to that place?"
That's kind of where the Nets are right now. In 2008, for the first time since 2001, the former two-time conference champions entered a season with dim playoff hopes, as well as without stalwarts Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson. Despite the diminished roster, the Nets managed to cling to a spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race for half the season before succumbing to injuries and a tough late-season schedule. New Jersey stayed afloat early thanks to unexpected productivity from two players -- Devin Harris and Brook Lopez. The Nets liberated Harris from Dallas in the Jason Kidd trade, but even they didn't imagine that he'd break out the way he did in the first half of last season. He earned a living at the free throw line, averaging nearly nine attempts a game, and made the All-Star team while leading the Nets in scoring.
HOLLINGER'S '08-09 STATS
W-L: 34-48 (Pythagorean W-L: 33-49)
Offensive Efficiency: 105.4 (14th)
Defensive Efficiency: 108.2 (23rd)
Pace Factor: 92.4 (22nd)
Highest PER: Devin Harris (21.65)
Lopez, meanwhile, arrived with much less fanfare than several other first-year players but probably should have won the rookie of the year award. The 10th overall pick solidified the middle by averaging 13 points on 53.0 percent shooting and led all first-year players in estimated wins added.
Combining Harris' and Lopez's efforts with another solid season from Vince Carter -- one in which he would have landed on the All-Star team had the Nets not fallen so far off the national radar -- New Jersey benefited from a very solid three-man core, one that helped the Nets to a 19-19 mark through 38 games.
Unfortunately, those three received no help whatsoever, as the Nets paired the aforementioned trio with the worst forward combo in the league. Milwaukee discards Bobby Simmons and Yi Jianlian started at forward, and even though they labored to supbar seasons they kept their jobs because New Jersey didn't have anybody better. Had the Nets merely squeezed average production from these two spots, they would have easily made the playoffs, even with the late-season injuries to Harris.
As it was, New Jersey devoted nearly a hundred minutes a game at the two forward spots to a combo of six players -- Simmons, Yi, Jarvis Hayes, Trenton Hassell, Ryan Anderson and Eduardo Najera. Those six provided their employer an average PER of 10.97, which is essentially replacement-level production.
Only Anderson produced at an acceptable rate offensively, and his output was more than offset by struggles at the defensive end. Of course, that still made him better than Yi, who seemed overmatched at both ends of the floor -- especially after returning from injury after the All-Star break. (Fun postscript for Nets fans: After the season they traded Anderson and kept the other five.)
Thanks to the forward fiasco, New Jersey won 34 games instead of 40-something. One can only wonder how differently things might have turned out if the Nets hadn't traded Jefferson to Milwaukee for Yi and Simmons in a financially motivated deal prior to the season.
Unfortunately, financially motivated deals are likely to play an outsized role in the Nets' future, as the story off the court was infinitely worse than the story on it. Another year passed without a shovel going into the ground on the Nets' long-awaited move to Brooklyn, and at this point one wonders if it will ever come to pass.
In the meantime, the team struggles to draw in New Jersey and is hemorrhaging red ink, reportedly losing $25 million last year alone. The Nets dramatically scaled back most of their operations (scouting, sales, etc.) and have already sold advertising on virtually everything that's nailed down in the Izod Center, so player salaries are about the only thing left to cut.
Those considerations may have been a factor in Lawrence Frank staying at the helm amid rumors that general manager Rod Thorn wasn't terribly pleased with his performance -- New Jersey was reluctant to shell out his guaranteed salary for 2010-11 while also paying his replacement.
Alas, Thorn might want to check his own windows before he starts hurling bricks, as several questionable personnel moves have left the Nets short-handed talentwise. Those shortcomings were most evident at the defensive end, where the Nets had fared well throughout Frank's tenure before slipping noticeably last season.
New Jersey did solid work against 2-point shooters, holding opponents to a league-average 48.5 percent, and that almost always leads to solid numbers overall. Almost always. In this case the Nets gave up so many 3-pointers and free throws that they still finished 24th in opponent true shooting percentage. New Jersey surrendered 39.1 percent accuracy on 3-pointers last season; only Sacramento fared worse. And the Nets' opposition averaged .355 free throw attempts per field goal attempt, placing New Jersey 28th.
That undermined a surprisingly solid effort at the offensive end, where Harris' free throws and a low turnover rate combined to push New Jersey just above the league average in offensive efficiency -- even though the Nets were just 24th in shooting percentage.
Financial constraints led New Jersey to unload the last of their big contracts while becoming the league leader in firing assistant coaches and scouts. Although they're miles below the luxury tax threshold, they could make other moves to trim more payroll. However, any cutbacks may be much less dramatic now that Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov has agreed to purchase the team. He'll inject some much-needed capital into the operation and likely provide the financial impetus needed for the team to complete it's long-scheduled move to Brooklyn.
Traded Vince Carter and Ryan Anderson to Orlando for Courtney Lee, Rafer Alston and Tony Battie. The Nets unchained the final link to the Jason Kidd era, trading Carter for spare parts after his very solid 2008-09 campaign. Although this was a salary dump plain and simple, New Jersey didn't come out of the deal empty-handed. Lee showed potential as a defensive stopper in his rookie season in Orlando and will likely take over Carter's spot as the starting shooting guard. Alston and Battie also provide some value as defenders off the bench, though it seems likely the Nets will either buy out or trade both at the trade deadline since each has an expiring contract.
Picked up Jarvis Hayes' option. New Jersey will pay Hayes just a shade over $2 million this season, which is a surprise considering his limited output last season and the Nets' dire financial straits. New Jersey did seem to function well when he played as a small-ball 4, however, and it's possible he'll see more time in that role this season if Yi continues to struggle.
Drafted Terrence Williams. Williams proved an enigma in his four years at Louisville and has three trends working against him -- the history of four-year players drafted in the lottery, the history of Rick Pitino products in the NBA, and the history of players drafted by Rod Thorn. Every rule has its exception, however -- for instance, Thorn came up with a plum in Lopez a year ago -- and Williams has as much opportunity as any rookie given the dearth of quality wings on the Nets' roster.
Received two second-round picks from Golden State. The Nets got a freebie from the Warriors in return for delaying their receipt of a first-round pick from the Marcus Williams trade until at least 2012; the pick was so heavily protected that they weren't likely to get it until 2012 anyway, so this was found money.
Biggest Strength: Backcourt depth
New Jersey doesn't have a lot going for it, but one thing it can hang its hat on is a multitude of options in the backcourt. It starts with Harris, who will orchestrate nearly every play now that Carter is gone. Harris could lead the league in usage rate given the paucity of other options on the Nets' stripped-down roster, and he may very well return to the All-Star Game even if the Nets are terrible.
Harris will likely pair with other small guards more than ever since New Jersey has three capable point guards. Alston is the second one, coming over from Orlando, where he supplied solid defense and ballhandling to offset his iffy shooting. And Keyon Dooling shouldn't be forgotten either -- he's a solid option at either guard slot and has enough size to capably guard most 2s when the Nets play small.
The backcourt depth extends to the shooting guard spot, where Lee and Williams would make for a decent combo if Williams didn't have to start at the 3. Lee didn't play a major offensive role in Orlando but may look for his shot a lot more with the undermanned Nets, and Williams could play a major offensive role as well. Additionally, don't sleep on Chris Douglas-Roberts. Though he played sparingly as a rookie a season ago, he was very productive in his minutes and the rebuilding Nets would be wise to stick him in the rotation and see if he produces.
Biggest Weakness: Forwards
If you thought the Nets' forward situation was ugly last season, wait until you see what's in store this season. First the good news -- Yi supposedly had a strong summer, so perhaps he'll contribute at a higher level than he did a season ago. It's difficult to fathom how he could be any worse. From there, it's a series of unpalatable options. Rookie Williams will likely have to start at small forward because the other options (Simmons and Hayes) are so brutal, while at power forward it might be Yi or bust -- limited veteran Battie is the only other option unless the Nets want to play small and use Hayes.
Don't expect much help to arrive from outside either. With the Nets in rebuilding and cost-cutting mode, this is the crew that likely will have to sink or swim this season. Based on the Nets' track record, my money is on "sink."
Harris and Lopez make for a nice nucleus, and the additions of Lee, Alston and Battie could improve the Nets a bit on defense from a season ago. But in the big picture, the Nets traded one of their two difference-makers and are completely devoid of quality at the two forward spots. Frank will prepare and motivate his troops per usual so it's possible that his club might overachieve enough to keep things somewhat interesting for a couple of months, much as it did a year ago.
But "interesting" is about as much as we should expect from New Jersey. Harris, for all his gifts, is injury-prone, and one shudders to think how little the Nets would score without him. Additionally, some of the veteran reserves are unlikely to stay on the roster all season since New Jersey will likely strip-mine the team in search for cash and assets as the trade deadline nears.
As a result, it's likely to be a long, long year in The Swamp, albeit a short one chronologically -- there's no chance it will last beyond April 14. The bigger questions for this season aren't on the court but further down the line -- will Prokhorov's money and connections help expedite the move to Brooklyn, will the likely struggles this season yield a difference maker in the lottery, and will the Nets procure any decent players with the $25 million or so in cap space they'll have next summer? As far off as they are, those questions seem a lot more interesting than the product on the court.
Prediction: 24-58, fifth place in Atlantic Division, 15th in Eastern Conf.