Let’s face it. This franchise is a mess.
After yesterday’s trade and last night’s draft pick, the New Jersey Nets are back where they were in 2000, a mismanaged operation that is a joke to its fans and the larger NBA universe.
It’s traded away its stars. It plays in the worst venue in the NBA, if not professional sports. Its fan base is shrinking and its move to Brooklyn questionable at best. Its respected basketball managers spend most of their time making excuses for an owner who is increasingly unavailable and when he does speak says little anyone believes.
There is no longer trust between those who are most passionate about the team and those who own and manage it. And quite frankly, it’s not going to get better any time soon. In fact, it is likely to get worse. It’s hard to root for the New Jersey Nets...or if you prefer, the Brooklyn Nets or the New York Nets.
It would be best for those running the team to say what the reality is: the decisions that have been made the last year and a half have made to save money. If the team got anything in return, it was a bonus. And the decision to dump Vince Carter along with other recent decisions was not made in the Nets’ corporate offices in East Rutherford or even Forest City Ratner’s offices in Brooklyn. It was most likely made in Cleveland, home of Forest City Enterprises, which assumes 54% of the team’s ever increasing losses and has seen its stock lose 75% of its value. Not good numbers.
The biggest canard of course is that this was done to help the "cap", with front office types citing those big numbers that will be available next summer in the summer of free agency. No, it wasn’t. It was done to save money because the team is hemorrhaging it. Moreover, this looked like an operation that is up for sale even before the Sports Illustrated revelations. Companies looking to sell do all the things the Nets have done in the past several months: cut staff, shrink investments and, most of all, dump long term costs and conserve cash. This isn’t "Batten down the hatches. There’s a storm a-coming". This is "Get me out of here".
Put the most optimistic spin on it: the Nets could have as much as $27.3 million in cap space next summer, enough to sign two major free agents to max contracts. That’s no doubt what we’ll hear from management today and throughout the season. But is that the reality? That scenario is dependent on free agents wanting to come to New Jersey or Brooklyn. Has any major free agent willingly come to New Jersey…ever. Only two All-Stars have ever agreed to join the Nets as free agents—Alonzo Mourning after missing a year due to his kidney problem and Shareef Abdur-Rahim. How’d they work out? Whatever success the Nets have had historically has come in the draft and through trades.
Why would this be any different? The team certainly has some on-court assets in Devin Harris and Brook Lopez. We’re still hopeful about Yi Jianlian, although it is a case of hope over statistics. Courtney Lee is very promising and Chris Douglas Roberts and Terrence Williams are nice pieces, maybe more…although all three play the same position. Ryan Anderson was a nice piece too. But is this team, as currently constituted, going to win more games and be more attractive to a free agent than the team that won 34 games last year? No…period.
As for now, no one knows where this team will be playing in two years. Brooklyn has been downsized, and down-marketed. If ground has been broken by the end of the year, a brand new arena and brand new fan base in New York might be appealing to a Lebron James or a Yao Ming (there we said it). And then whoever owns the Nets might see his financial situation improved enough to spend some money. Suppose Brooklyn doesn’t happen. Then what? Why would a free agent join a franchise whose location, fanbase and ownership are, in order, uncertain, fed up and inept?
A few months ago, during one of his rare discussions with the writers who cover the team, Bruce Ratner said he was willing to spend money, even go over the luxury tax, if it meant adding that one crucial piece to the Nets' championship hopes. Does anyone believe that? Brett Yormark has told every (naive) business reporter he comes within a mile of that this year is about building brand loyalty. Can anyone stifle a laugh, or a yawn, anymore when they read that?
It’s possible, we guess, that the team will do something over the summer to rectify matters. We doubt it. Writers have warned that the team is unlikely to engage in any significant trades or free agent signings beyond the vets' minimum.
A few months ago, a friend expressed his admiration for NetsDaily then smiled and asked, " why couldn’t you follow a team with better prospects?"