Loving a basketball team like the Nets is equivalent to fishing in the heart of the ocean. Every so often, you’ll feel a bite, a tug of potential postseason promise, only to reel in nothing.
This season has felt like a long day at sea without anything to eat or drink.
At 17-24, and losers of eight of their last nine, the Nets haven’t given their increasingly tired fan base any reason to get excited about the team. That black and white bobber has yet to dip into the salty water of decency.
Brooklyn currently ranks 24th in Relative Percent Index (via ESPN), which means that only six teams have played an easier schedule. Outside of some Mason Plumlee jams and Jarrett Jack explosions, "Yeah, the Nets lost again last night," has been the only consistent talking point.
Coach Lionel Hollins was expected to mold these guys into a tough-minded, defensively stout force. The D hasn’t been awful, as Brooklyn is giving up 97.8 points a night, seventh best in the league. The problem is on the other end, where the Nets are scoring 95.6 points (24th).
"We have established an identity: We don't make shots," Hollins said before losing to the Houston Rockets on January 12, "That's an identity."
"I don't know what it is," he said in jest. "Maybe I'm the problem. I don't know. But I don't shoot them. ... I'm sure that behind closed doors -- without a microphone on -- some players may say I'm the problem, the reason they can't shoot." (Hollins may have had some fun with that line, but it didn't sit well with everyone in the organization.)
Injuries have derailed the direction of the team, but there’s no excuse for the Nets to be as bad as they are. It’s certainly safe to say that things could’ve started a bit better. Or a lot better.
But let’s not overreact. Not yet, at least.
Brooklyn would enter the playoffs as the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference if the season ended today. A showdown with the surprisingly awesome 33-8 Atlanta Hawks would await the Nets.
Remember what the Hawks did to the Indiana Pacers last season? They played team basketball and exploited a No. 1-seeded squad that simply didn’t bring its A-game. At full health—which, of course, if extremely important—the Nets might have a shot to push the Birds.
Deron Williams is out with a rib injury, which for the moment seems a devastating blow to a struggling team. His deep shooting, in particular, is missed.
Brook Lopez, who has missed 10 games this year, went down with a broken foot 17 games into last season. It was a similar situation—the 9-17 Nets were struggling to do anything right with one of their best players limping toward the sidelines.
But shortly after Lopez went down, everything clicked. Then-coach Jason Kidd (or, as you may know him, He Who Shall Not Be Named) would later point to Brook’s injury as the turning point of the season, as Brooklyn went on to win 42 games and escape a first-round series against a tough Toronto Raptors team (that after a strong start has lost seven of the last nine).
Will Williams' injury have the exact same effect? No. For one, he’s (thankfully) not out for the year. Secondly, Brooklyn is rather thin in the point guard department, though Jack has shined at times.
D-Will’s return could be the catalyst that Brooklyn needs, though. Williams has averaged 13.9 points and 6.3 assists on 39.6 percent shooting through his first 32 games, but might breathe life into the lungs of a team gasping for air upon his comeback.
"I’m still pretty sore. I don’t have a timetable, just taking it one day at a time," Williams said on January. 13. "There’s nothing you can do, really. They’re doing some laser and heating it up; just rest. Other than that, there’s nothing really you can do."
While there’s no set timetable for a return, "an expert from NYU told The Post last week similar injuries could take as many as four weeks to heal."
There seems to be a growing notion that the Nets are done. Finished. Down for the count.
That same notion was present right up until New Year’s last season. Granted, we’re two weeks beyond Jan. 1 now, but in a wide open East, even a slight turnaround will all but guarantee a playoff berth.
The Nets have shown life in both of their last two games, a back-to-back set against the Washington Wizards. On Jan. 16, Brook Lopez and Jarrett Jack, both of whom were rumored to be included in a trade hours before tip-off, each went or 26 points and carried Brooklyn to a 22-point victory in our nation's capital.
One night later, the Wizards, now on the road, brought their A-game. The Nets lost, 99-90, but they showed life. If not for a poor third quarter, the outcome would've probably been different.
John Hollinger projects that the No. 8 seed in the East will finish with a record of 37-45. That would require Brooklyn to literally play .500 basketball from now until the end of the season in order to earn its third straight trip to the playoffs. Not so crazy after all, is it?
If not this year, then when? Most fans of poorly performing teams --like the Knicks -- have the comfort of the future, where everything is perfect for their beloved franchises.
But having mortgaged a vast majority of their future assets, the Nets are stuck in a weird mud patch, unable to take any steps forward for the next two years, barring a surprise, a stroke of luck. It's happened before. And even with Williams still a Net in 2016, the Nets are likely to have $50 million in cap space. Next year? Who knows?
Barring a trade, of course, there won’t be much draft stock in Brooklyn until after 2018. The Nets have to swap picks with the Hawks in 2015, which right now means No. 15 for No. 29; have ceded their 2016 first to Boston; will have to swap with the Celtics in 2017 if their pick is higher; then give up their 2018 to Boston
Second rounders, the cupboard is even more bare. They have their own second rounder this year, but must swap their 2016 second rounders under certain circumstances with the Clippers and give up their 2017 second rounder to the Hawks, the final payment on the Joe Johnson trade. They may have to swap second rounders with Philly in 2018 and swap the 2019 pick they received in the Jason Kidd trade to Philly as well. In 2020, they must cede their pick to the Sixers as well. But they do have a history of buying second rounders. The rights to Bojan Bogdanovic, for example, cost them a mere $1.3 million in 2011.
So, this is pretty much it, Nets fans. You’re looking at a few more years of Hollins as coach. His deal, for better or worse, has three more years to run. Who of the remaining big contracts -- D-Will,, Lopez -- will still be on the books is anyone's guess. KG’s contract is up after this year.
Keep in mind that the team you're watching now might not be the one you're watching at the end of the season. And Billy King and an ownership with an eye to sell could either greatly help or hurt Brooklyn's playoff chances with front office moves. Old rumors could be revived, new ones broken by Woj.
In all likelihood, the Nets will finish in the neighborhood of 30-40 wins this season. A late surge similar to last year’s wouldn’t be surprising if all the pieces come together, though it's unlikely to be as powerful as the Kidd-led run.
So, if for nothing but your own sanity, don’t reel in your cast on them yet. We’ve seen turnarounds before, and it won’t take much to slither into the Eastern Conference playoffs. Once those postseason lights come on, anything can happen. A healthy, vibing Nets team wouldn't be an easy out by any means.
Fishing can become maddening, especially after hours upon hours of inactivity.
But all it takes is one catch to make all that time on the water worthwhile.
- No-nos aside, Nets vow push - Mitch Abramson - New York Daily News
- What the Nets can do to make a second-half surge - Tim Bontemps - New York Post
- Extra minutes might be taking toll on Nets' Joe Johnson - Rod Boone - Newsday
- Assessing Nets at the halfway mark - Mike Mazzeo - ESPN New York