The Brooklyn Nets are going to win more than 12 games this season... we hope.
Back in the 2009-2010 season, as many die-hards will recall, the Nets were an abomination on the court and won just 12 of 82 games that season. As a fan, you figured things couldn't get any worse.
But it feels like they have.
At least during that season, Nets fans had the draft to look forward to, with three picks and names like John Wall potentially becoming a reality to become the face of the franchise. It ended up becoming Derrick Favors, but at least they knew they had a lotto pick. At least they had a new start; a new coach and eventually a new roster that would come in and hopefully clean the mess. Losing didn't feel AS bad as it does now.
Right now, they're trying to win games. They don't own a pick for this year's draft. Instead, that will go to their division foe in Boston. So yeah, they're trying to win games, but they're not. They've lost nine straight games at home, something they haven't done since, well the horrid 12-70 season when they lost 14 straigh.
Two of the very few bright spots that at least eased the pain a bit - are both sidelined. One being Jarrett Jack, who just tore his ACL, has been ruled out for the rest of the year. They're 0-3 since he's been gone with the primary guards being Shane Larkin and Donald Sloan. Will they fix the problem? Nobody knows.
Standout rookie Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is still another month away from returning from a broken ankle. Chris McCullough remains out and isn't expected to see too much action when returning.
Nothing has gone as planned. Or nothing was planned correctly to begin with.
The so-called "chemistry" that was hoped to anchor this team suddenly seems like a big lie disguising much like the "bridge year."
This "bridge year" leads to nothing guaranteed. There's fog on the other side, at best. Sure the Nets have cap room, but why would any free agent want to sign with a franchise that's been on a fast decline over the last three years? There's been four different coaches in five years, and with the way things are looking, it could very well become five.
Even during the 12-70 season, the Nets had Brooklyn and a new owner to look forward to. Well now here we are in Brooklyn, with the new owner, and things are pretty darn bad.
The former face of the franchise, Deron Williams, is having fun and winning ball games on a solid Dallas Mavericks team as the Nets pay him to do so. Now, there are reports saying Joe Johnson might be bought out at the trade deadline. It's almost funny in such a sad way. You immediately think of ‘Brooklyn's backcourt'. How much money they've made. All the smiles, promises.. the trademark!. It was a mirage.
Both might potentially get paid top bill to play for other teams, while the Nets and its fans suffer through what feels like an NBA season straight from hell. Joe Johnson was asked how to get out of this slump and he said, "I don't know." That makes everybody feel much better.
It's worse than a 12-70 record.
There's only one player on this team that understands what it's like to encounter such a season. Brook Lopez, arguably the most loyal player in the NBA for reasons nobody will ever know. He's stuck with this organization through thick and thin (mostly thin), undergoing his eighth season with the franchise. The Nets have finished above .500 in two of those seasons.
So, how does Lopez feel right now? He had a chance to leave the Nets this summer and sign with someone else, but instead he chose to stay.
"No, no, no. I'm happy to be here," Lopez said Thursday in a question from the veteran Fred Kerber, who's seen a lot of bad basketball.
"Time and time again I've said I wanted to see something built here, I see a special opportunity, a great situation to be in."
Lopez, usually optimistic, is noticeably affected by the Nets' poor play. He may not say it, but you could tell by his body language and facial expressions after games that it's definitely wearing him out. You can't blame him.
Remember fans showing up to fans with bags over their heads? It feels like nobody in Brooklyn even cares to do that. It feels like nobody is ever there to witness the atrocity that's unfolding.
During the infamous 2009-2010 season, the Nets ranked dead last in the NBA with an average of 13,103 fans per game. So far this season, during the "bridge year", the Nets rank 28th with an average of 14,789 per game, recently falling behind the last-placed 76ers.
The number doesn't necessarily indicate how many people are actually showing up and sitting in the seats. Quite frankly, it's been silent as a library at the games.
Brett Yormark, seemingly more involved in discussing the team's performance, recognizes that even if seats are sold, people are not attending.
"The team has to play better. We've got to give people a reason to show up every night. One area we've lagged from last year is the show rate: the portion of people who buy tickets and show up. We're thinking very proactively about how we keep people engaged, create value for them and amplify the in-arena experience so people have a wonderful experience, win or lose."
seven consecutive rows of empty seats is art pic.twitter.com/JwikBzsbBM— alex (@steven_lebron) January 7, 2016
And we haven't even talked about the Comcast black out of YES games, which is NOT likely to be lifted this season.
So what's there to be optimistic for?
Nothing to get overly excited about, but we'll take what we can get. The Nets will have $40 million in cap space, enough to offer to max salaries to free agents. Hopefully free agents will agree with Lopez that something special can arise in Brooklyn.
Next, they'll have the brand-new practice facility down in Industry City to go along with the still newest arena in the NBA... and it's in New York. It's in Brooklyn, which SHOULD mean something special. The way it felt when the team made plans to move to from Jersey to BK.
"The opportunity to play in New York, first and foremost," Lopez said, when asked how he'd pitch the Nets. "The facilities we have. I think, for me, it's all about potential."
But Lopez still understands it's all about winning.
Whether we're luring free agents or want people to stay or whatever it is, you've got to be able to show them that there's opportunities here for that. We have to have the right product on the court."
Lopez is a part of a frontcourt duo with partner Thaddeus Young, who's having a career year with the Nets this season. During a struggling season, it's expected for Young to put up big numbers, but he's undoubtedly taken his game to the next level, struggling or not. These are two solid players that can mesh well with two other very good players.
And for whatever it's worth, the Nets are finally updating their analytics staff, something that's clearly an important aspect in measuring the team's success and how they can improve in certain aspects of the game.
Last season, they hired Glenn DuPaul as analytics director. Just recently, they hired Rami Antoun, someone who's been a "quantitative analyses associate" on the Dodgers staff since last June.
Again, what does it mean in the grand scheme of things?
None of this is guaranteed to bring success to Brooklyn, with the hope of all Nets fans being placed into the hands of Brett Yormark and company to recruit free agents to Brooklyn. It seems like the only hope in fixing this broken ship.
On Monday, Mikhail Prokhorov, Nets chairman Dmitry Razumov and board member Sergey Kushchenko will fly in to watch the Nets play the Spurs, the model. They might be at Barclays, too, on Wednesday when the Knicks, with a 20-year-old wunderkind, Kristaps Porzingis, come to play. It's likely to be a sell-out, with a majority of the fans Knick loyalists.
After Sunday's events, therer will be no more more jokes or platitudes or talk about "bridge year." Fans want and deserve a frank discussion of the future.