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Nets need more than just Carter

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DAVE D'ALESSANDRO

STAR-LEDGER STAFF

22 November 2007

PORTLAND, Ore. - Vince Carter was expected to get his uniform back last night in this brisk and distant timberland, and by most accounts this could only be a good thing for a team that hasn't shown much offense since the season opener.

But one question still remained about the ineptitude the Nets have demonstrated this season, with or without their leading scorer: What if Jason Kidd was right?

Kidd sounded the alarm on a number of things Monday in Salt Lake City, but his argument that Carter alone cannot cure their offensive ills still resonated as the Nets took the floor against the Trail Blazers last night.

"If you look back at the other teams, we ran," Kidd said. "Our fast break covered up a lot of flaws. We were never a great shooting team, but we had 20-something fastbreak points every night, and that took a lot of pressure off the offense.

"And we defended, which led to rebounds and turnovers and easy baskets. Now we're not doing any of that. We're not defending, we're not running, and we're not making shots."

The problem, of course, is that the Nets don't have a lot of transition players. When that point was made to Kidd, he merely shrugged.

"We still have to think about what we are," he said. "When I said we don't know who we are, I meant it: Are we going to be a break team? Or are we going to limit possessions of the other team by slowing it down?"

Is he overreacting? Perhaps. When the Nets had a healthy Richard Jefferson and Nenad Krstic in 2005-06, they were capable of scoring in multiple ways, as Jefferson made up his mind to get his points in transition.

"But ask yourself this," Kidd suggested. "Are we built like we were two years ago? That's what you have to decide. On paper, we may be better. Paper doesn't win, though."

Carter, however, wins regular-season games by himself, which is all the Nets want for now. They walked into the Rose Garden with a six-game losing streak, and in the five games he had missed with the sprained ankle his team had averaged an anemic 76.6 points per game.

The reason: Without Carter, the Nets became a very easy team to defend. The output from Jefferson, Antoine Wright and Boki Nachbar - who had excelled with him around in preseason or the early season - had dropped precipitously.

"Yeah, I do," Carter replied at yesterday's shootaround, when asked whether he understood his effect on those three players. "I think we all work well together. When they double, I know in different situations where they are on the floor. I can't wait to get back out there to get those guys going again. And get myself going. Hopefully soon we'll be back to the old Nets."

Can it happen overnight? Probably not. Because even Carter was struggling before his injury, averaging only 17 points on 39.5 percent shooting before his injury.

That, however, wasn't likely to continue for long.

"Offensively, we have the potential to be pretty doggone good," team president Rod Thorn said. "Right now, we're one of the worst offensive teams in the league. So that's obviously a place we need to get better.

"(Carter) helps spread the court, he helps make other people better. He's a facilitator. We've really struggled offensively, and with him we'll be more efficient, we'll be better on the offensive end."

Coach Lawrence Frank spelled it out this way:

"Vince's tangible ability is he brings two (defenders) to the ball, so he gives you more separation for all those other guys to tee up shots," Frank said. "In the post he draws double-teams, which allows guys to get shots. And he's one of our best pick-and-roll players, so now you're able to run multiple pick-and-rolls, so now it's not just Jason putting pressure on them.

"But that being said, we've been shorthanded the last couple of years and we have to do better. Vince isn't here with a cape and all of a sudden it's going to change - no. It's a process. Our attention to detail as players and coaches just has to be greater. Our setups (are poor). It's not necessarily the play as it is the execution of the play that we have to get better at."